I hate e-readers. I hate them with a fiery, socially unacceptable hatred. I hate the silent, uninspiring compliance of their screens and I hate their stupid little highlighting and page-marking functions. Given the chance, I would throw every Kindle and Nook in the world into an active volcano and then go back to my cave with my stone spear heads and my woolly mammoth friends.
This concludes this week’s Confessional Thursday.
In all honesty, I try not to rant about it too much. With all the big problems in the world, it’s just not fashionable to fight with people over their preferred reading conduit. I don’t accost e-reading strangers and demand they get their Kindle out of my sight before I actually start a fire with it. I don’t send emails to Barnes and Noble complaining about offensive Nook ads. I may have called my best friend a heathen for considering one, but I swear that was just once.
I love my books, okay? I would spend hours in bookstores if I could, but my friends get bored and the paranoia of looking like a book thief makes me all jumpy. I love bringing a new book home and losing myself for hours in the clean, crisp pages with their new-book smell. I love dog-earing a page or highlighting a line for the first time.
I went through a phase when I tried to keep my books in pristine condition. I didn’t eat or drink while I was reading. I used a bookmark religiously. I didn’t dog-ear pages or underline anything. I got all nervous if anyone else handled my books, like Bilbo Baggins and his plates.
Now that that obnoxious, obsessive phase is over, I don’t mind marking up my books a little. They’re mine, so why shouldn’t they have a little personality? Like Andy writing his name on the bottom of Woody’s boot, it shows somebody cares about them. Somebody spent some time with them.
I didn’t value books quite so much when I was young. I’ve already said I loved to read, but the book as a physical object wasn’t all that important to me. Some of the books from my childhood are missing half their covers or are wrinkled and water-stained from first page to last. Unfortunately, some of the books I man-handled weren’t even mine.
One of my most vivid early memories is my dad reading this copy of The Hobbit to me and my sister. He turned us into fellow Tolkien fans at an early age, and when I was old enough to read I tackled The Hobbit on my own. I don’t remember exactly what I did to it, but from the looks of things, I made reading a not-so-sedentary activity. I don’t know, maybe I literally tackled it? It had a glossy, illustrated dust jacket but I destroyed that beyond all hope of repair as well (I think part of the reason I dislike children so much is because I was such a wretched one myself).
I’ve offered to buy my dad a new copy several times, but he always says no. I’ve never asked why; I just assumed it had sentimental value and I felt even worse for ruining it. The more I think about it, though, the more I wonder if the split binding and broken cover is part of the value.
I feel incredibly self-centered suggesting this, but I wonder if the memory of reading to me and my sister is what makes it special to Dad. I may be way off the mark and it’s special because was a nice gift that he managed to keep in good condition until his wrecking ball of a daughter came along, but I know whenever I look at it I remember being snuggled in his lap and looking at the gorgeous illustrations while he put on a full cast of voices.
How the hell can an e-reader compare to that?
Sure, parents can still read to their kids with a Nook, but no one can tell me it’s the same. You can’t tell me having the physical proof isn’t worth something. You can’t tell me a Kindle, with all its functions and uses, can serve as a tactile, concrete memory trigger with any kind of specificity. Nobody looks at their TV screen and says, “Ah, yes. I remember watching Pocahontas and Homeward Bound on this.” The memories are in the VHS tapes with their bulky plastic covers.
Beyond that emotional appeal to parents, current or future, my reasons hating e-reader aren’t all that substantial. I just don’t understand how the reading experience can carry the same weight without the physical sensation of pages. I don’t see how downloading a 99¢ file can be as special as picking out a book and making it your own. I entertain fantasies of publishing only hard copies of my own books because damn it, I want my words to occupy their own space and exist as their own physical object with its own colors and smells and weight.
“Oh, but they’re so convenient.” WHATEVER.
And yeah, not every book is going to change your life. I own my share of cheap, forgettable stories; reading them on an e-reader probably wouldn’t make them more or less memorable. But most of the time, when I pick up a book, I’m looking for an experience rather than information alone. I’m expecting it to be significant enough to deserve its own space in my house. I really do try not to be cantankerous about it, but it gets under my skin. I don’t like to see books and the people who wrote them lose their value.
Now that I’ve ranted and raved and probably scared off a few readers, I have a question. Since my dad doesn’t want a new copy of The Hobbit, I would like to get the old one repaired. I want to keep the original cover so the memories can live on in the battle scars, but it needs some help. I would like it to hold together without tape, and whether that means it needs to be rebound or resewn or reincarnated, I don’t know. I’ve never had a book repaired or restored and I don’t know where to start beyond Googling “book fixers.” Do any of you have experience with book repair, either as the customer or the repairer? Any advice as to where to send it or where not to send it? I’d really appreciate any suggestions you have!