Monday, May 05, 2008

Don't forget...

So has recently begun selling something called the Kindle. It’s a paperless, wireless, handheld reading device. You can download entire books to your Kindle in seconds, and read them any time, any place.

And I have such mixed feelings about where the “future” of book reading seems to be headed. One part of me thinks that the Kindle really DOES seem like a good idea. You can buy books in minutes without even making a run to the Barnes and Noble, tote them all around with you in a nifty gadget that happens to be smaller than most INDIVIDUAL books, and never worry about dog-eared pages or dropping that copy of “War and Peace” on your foot. It would be great for travel – a dozen different titles would fit quite neatly into the pocket of a single carry-on bag. And of course, the more books downloaded to Kindle, the fewer paper pages would need to be printed, and the fewer trees we would need to chop down.

But another part of me – the “writer” part of me, mainly – is already mourning the loss of the printed page. Is this the way the books of the future will be disseminated? Will that neighborhood Barnes and Noble eventually be a used book repository, where rare printed copies of Harry Potter novels will collect dust on the shelves? Will curling up with a good novel on a cold, rainy day consist of a cup of hot tea in one hand, and a hard piece of digitized plastic in the other?

It’s not that I don’t LIKE the idea of the Kindle. I can definitely see a use for such a device. I could see myself tossing one into a bag before a cross-country plane trip… or using it to download a novel I just can’t wait another minute to start reading – of course, if I was enjoying it, I would probably want to go out and buy the actual BOOK. To me, there’s a difference between holding a cold, impersonal computer screen and holding a collection of malleable pages. It’s almost as if books contain a LIFE of their own… something living and breathing and organic… and if you consider all those sacrificed trees, they really ARE organic. To HOLD a book, and to lose yourself within its story, and to eagerly turn each crinkly, fragile page, is to become a PART of that living, breathing, organic book…

I fell in love with one of my favorite books, "The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, after only a few pages. It was the author’s description of a vast book collection, in a place called “the Cemetery of Forgotten Books,” that sucked me right into the story. As the protagonist, Daniel, says:

“We followed our host through a palatial corridor and arrived at a sprawling round hall, a virtual basilica of shadows spiraling up under a high glass dome, its dimness pierced by shafts of light that stabbed from above. A labyrinth of passageways and crammed bookshelves rose from base to pinnacle like a beehive woven with tunnels, steps, platforms, and bridges that presaged an immense library of seemingly impossible geometry.”

And later, Daniel’s father explains:

“Every book… has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens… When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands. In the shop we buy and sell them, but in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here has been somebody’s best friend.”

What could you say about a vast collection of books on a Kindle? There would be no twisting, turning paths of shelves, no musty scent of old paper and dust, no piles of titles to peruse underneath wandering fingertips. To curl up in a comfortable, overstuffed chair with a mug of hot chocolate and a literal, printed, possibly dog-eared BOOK is one of life’s simple joys. Hopefully one that will never be “forgotten”…

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