Monday, January 17, 2011

Replacing Books

I read this article and it made me think...

Why My E-Reader Will Never Replace My Bookshelf

by Amy Preiser, Posted Jan 3rd 2011 9:15AM

I could tell you that I chose my e-reader based on its screen quality or the extra-long battery life. But I'd be lying. I made my decision to buy Barnes & Noble's NOOK over Amazon's Kindle based on one thing: Possible covers. The NOOK is sold alongside Lilly Pulitzer and Kate Spade covers that look like old-fashioned book cloth.

It may not make much sense: If I'm purchasing a device to keep me away from paper and ink books, why should I care so much about the cover material? (Which for the record is cotton canvas.) But my connection to the familiar feel of a cloth case -- similar to the size, shape and material of a traditional book -- goes deeper. I've loved books ever since I got my first library card at four years-old. I misspelled my own name and covered the mistake by doodling a flower; even then I was conscious of aesthetics.

When my boyfriend and I moved in together, one of the most fraught transitions was the combining of the bookshelves. It was our first order of business upon unpacking the boxes. Oh, yes! Those boxes that we groaned carrying into the U-Haul, out of the U-Haul and around the narrow hallways.

We stacked our books together in the new shelf in a totally democratic way -- by color. But the bookshelf took on a life of its own as we started to get more comfortable in the apartment. Books were taken out and put back in new places, new books found their way in via generous friends and boxes on the street marked "Take me!" The shelf filled up with vertical filing and then horizontal stacking began. And know what? It looked better than it did when everything was neat. It looked like people lived here, people who used the bookshelf as something other than a display case.

Because each spine, whether it's neatly tucked away or haphazardly stacked on a chair, also stands for a story aside from the one inside. The autographed Salman Rushdie novel, my boyfriend's beloved collection of bright blue, dog-eared travel books, my father's favorite book about American History that I still haven't returned to him after six years of borrowing (and still, not reading). They're all there. They all remind me of accomplishments. Each urges me to do new things and nags me about unfinished business.

But the bookshelf doesn't just serve as my own well of sentimentality, it's a point of connection. It's the spot that people are drawn to upon entering the apartment. We all call teapots and chandeliers "conversation pieces," but the bookshelf is the real deal. When my new neighbors moved to the building, we sparked a friendship based on the fact that we had a dozen books in common. Party guests have made fun of my collection of "The Babysitters Club" books (What? They're sentimental).

When a friend tells me they're itching to rearrange their living room, I'm quick to hand them "The Comfortable Home"; if they're looking to shake up their repertoire of recipes, I'll hand them "A Homemade Life." Feeling like they have the most dysfunctional family on earth? Try "This is Where I Leave You." In a way, my bookshelf is also my own little pharmacy. Though I'll admit I can be a shady pharmacist: I hoard the best things for myself: There's no way I'm giving out my new, cherished copy of Maira Kalman's "And the Pursuit of Happiness."

Technically, my e-reader has the same ability. It can hold 1,500 e-books and has a "Lend-Me" feature, which lets me zap those e-books to friends for a two-week borrowing period. But my e-reader is new; I only have six book so far, and how's anyone supposed to know what I'm reading when it's always hiding behind my adorable Jonathan Adler Peace/Love case? While there are obvious benefits to hiding your reading material from the outside world --- "Babysitters Club," anyone? -- it's also a shame to miss out on the spontaneous conversation that can spring from it. Even as I read through the e-book of what was perhaps 2010's buzziest book, Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom," not a single person, friend, neighbor, boyfriend made a peep.

In a piece for Slate, Mark Oppenheimer makes a case against the e-reader because of this disconnect, citing the sentimentality of the paperbacks that he and his wife traded early on and the old girlfriend who was seduced by his bookshelf. I have another thing to add to his list: Books have the unique characteristic of being both journey and prize: Once you make it through a novel, you have the object to file on your bookshelf as a sort of trophy. E-books just don't lend the same fanfare. When you get to page 1,400 of the hardcover version of "War and Peace," you get to slam the heavy thing shut and celebrate. With the e-book, it takes you to the "About the Author page" and then you aren't able to click ahead anymore. Hardly very satisfying.

Then again, anyone who's ever carried the hardcover "War and Peace" in their backpack can attest to the e-book's advantage. Not to mention the fact that the e-book of "War and Peace" costs nine dollars less than the paper version. On the NOOK, if you're trying to remember a specific quote from the book you can use the "Search" feature and find it within minutes. There's also a button to look up words in a dictionary -- I'll admit that it's responsible for the fact that I now know the definition of "eminently." These advantages have surely contributed to the fact that e-reader users buy and read more books. Amazon says over three times as many and my personal reading frequency has increased four-fold. As a true book lover, shouldn't I care more about the amount of books read than the aesthetics of those books on my bookshelf?

Yes, yes, I do. But don't tell my bookshelf. Because I swear that things aren't over between the two of us.

The last two e-books I read were by authors that were already well-represented on my bookshelf. And know what? Neither of the stories were as good as the ones that are still filed away by color. So I'm putting down my e-reader for a few days to revisit "Don't Get Too Comfortable" and "Then We All Came to the End." Once I finish them, I'll place them back on the bookshelf, near the front, so people can comment on them, ask to borrow them or just admire (or insult) my taste.

I don't mind being judged by my covers. In fact, sometimes that's exactly what I want.


It made me think of my own book shelf. I too have always loved books. When I was little I loved when the class went to the library. I purposely bought a used book that I used to look at often as a kid. It is a big book about the 50 states. Sure, much of the information inside is irrelevant by now and it has a lot of cheesy pictures in it, but it reminds me of those elementary school days at the library.

As I got older I enjoyed going to used book stores. The smell of the worn pages, even that moldy water logged smell gets me every time. I enjoyed wandering around book stores looking for a hidden gem. For a while in the early 90s I would find a neat book just by the cover or the description on the back paperback cover, take it home and devour it. Many ended up becoming movies- the first movie Crash based on JG Ballard's dark book Go, and some are still trying to get there - Confederacy of Dunces. I has a few authors I leaned toward, but I often free styled my way toward all types of books. Therefore my collection is ecceclic - books on film while I was switching around majors in college, a bunch of southern writers after a short stint living in New Orleans, biographies of authors I enjoyed reading - Dorthy Parker, Truman Capote... whatever struck my interest.

Like the author of the article my books are a history. They show much of my teens and twenties. The sad thing is it started getting sparse in my 30s. Between finishing college and work I read less and less, I bought less and less. Last year I think I bought about less than 10 books. I thought after graduate school that I would read more in my free time. Nope, I tend to read junk online. Why must I be drawn to trivial pop culture? I have a stack of unread books awaiting me. This article reminded me of my failed resolution to read more.

The ironic thing is I read two books while on my last vacation. I did not watch any television for those two weeks. I spent more time outside and I had limited use of a computer. So why is it when I am at home I am drawn what I avoided for two weeks?

Although my book shelf, the one (I thought I would have a room full by now) is overflowed with books that I arrange by subject and author, it is dusty and ignored. I did weed out a few books when I moved last year. It was difficult and painful. I couldn't just throw them out. They are in a pile for Goodwill. They didn't get far from their friends yet. Also like the author of the article I had to finally combine my books with the handful the husband had. Thank goodness he isn't into books or reading, otherwise he would have to get his own shelf.

Fortunately I have no e-reader to threaten my books. I have only myself to threaten them.

No comments:

Post a Comment