So everyone’s all a-twitter about e-books. And why not? As a species, we’re like magpies, squawkily flocking from one over-hyped shiny new thing to the next. Gunpowder? Railroads? Lightbulb? Telegraph? Telephone? Airplanes? E-mail? Shiny! Marry the age of consumerism with the age of gadgets and the pace e-quickens. Every six months now, someone tosses a new shiny thing out there into the public square, and we’re all over it like pigeons on popcorn. Ooh, ooh ipod, ilike, iphone, iwant, ipad, ineed, gimme that shiny new thing.
I’m not a saboteur, much. I Twitter, I FB, I LMAO at times. In fact, I was watching a video just the other day touting all the great things that an e-reader can do. Can’t find the link, sorry. But its promises were great: a little red dot would follow my reading progress, and when I hit the word “bird,” say, up would pop a little picture of the bird in the margin. Wow! Or if I might want to know what a word meant, I could just click a doo-hickey and up would pop the definition. Or a voice would tell me how to pronounce a word! I have to confess that for a moment I was nearly taken in.
But what if I wanted to just stare at the little bird picture for awhile before I even started to read the page? What if I wanted to flip through the pages to look at all the little pictures before I even started to read the book? And why should everything be so E-Z?
Ah, the pleasures to be found in looking up words in a, you know, “physical” dictionary. Sure, I can click on the little button, but if I look up, say, “relevant” in my Random House Webster’s College, I get to not only look at the picture on the page anytime I like (which is a drawing of “relief”), but I get to visit the neighbors: “relentless,” “reliable” and “relic.” All of which seem relevant to this here blog post.
(On the very same page of my dictionary, I also find the word “relaxin,” which I learn is a “polypeptide hormone” but which I also hope describes my afternoon plans.)
Which leads me to the pleasures of browsing. Say I walk in to a library looking for a book about water buffalo. Then say all that thinking about water buffalo makes me thirsty, so I start wandering around (under my own non-EZ steam), looking for water, and I take a short cut down a physical aisle filled with books, and what do you know, there’s Balzac! Not having ever read Balzac, I take him home and fall in love with Eugenie Grandet. Who knew? Well, that’s really the point, eh. The pleasures of serendipity.
The “pleasure” argument proffered in defense of old-fashioned books is often pooh-poohed. You may think, this woman is clearly over 50. You may roll your eyes. But here’s what I’m thinking this morning. We live in our bodies and the sensory world is rich, why not revel in it? Why not celebrate the sensory pleasure of the book? Why not flock to the book as object, as something we take in not only with our eyes, but our hands and our noses—because who doesn’t love the smell of paper and mustiness and bindings and glue? It’s hard to get high on e-words.
Sure, the soul of a book is a bunch of words, so who cares what the “text delivery system” looks like? I do. I don’t want just the soul of a book, I want its body. I want its body to rub up against other bodies on the shelf. I want to caress the spine and hold it in my hand while I’m reading at the beach. And ten years from now, or fifty, when fifty generations of e-readers are not decomposing in the landfill, I want to take that book down from my library shelf, and when the sand falls out from between the pages, that whole day will come rushing back. I will feel the sand on my wrinkled old skin, and I will smell the sea. And the sun and the sand and the memory of being young will all be tangled up with those papery pages, the story that they tell and the way that they feel in my hands.
So, I hereby launch the Slow Book Movement, to be rolled out in parts, since that is in keeping with slowness. It is not shiny, it is not new, it is decidedly old-ladyish. But it tastes better than e-books, it’s more nutritious, and I got time.