Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why your Kindle is evil

I love books. I know, I know, this sounds like a "duh" statement coming from an English teacher. But I don't just mean I love the stories on the pages, although of course that is an essential part of it. What I also love are the physical books themselves. In our increasingly digital age, where screen time commands our lives and the rejection of any part of this is criticized, I have been finding an increasing need to be able to express what it is about books that I so adore. A number of my friends, family members (even my technologically-illiterate mom), and coworkers are devout fans of their Kindles. I understand the allure--the convenience of it is great. It's a brilliant idea. However, despite people's attempts to convince me that this is the greatest invention since sliced bread, I staunchly refuse to get one. My main reason: a book has a soul that technology cannot replicate.

One of the first things I did whenever I moved back to college and when I moved into my apartment was set up my books. A place doesn't feel like home to me without their crowded, colorful spines piled on my shelves. They are like old familiar friends, along with some that are treasures still awaiting discovery. They are there for friends and family to peruse, discuss, and even borrow. A Kindle is much more isolating. It is not an object to be displayed. And while you can share books with those on your account, what about everyone else? I have found one of the great joys of books to be sharing it with someone else and having them fall in love with their words as I did. Now that I am a teacher, I have even loaned some books to students. One of my students last year was always carting around one large tome or another, and one day I decided to hand her another classic book I had that I thought she might enjoy, Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. She read it and enjoyed it, and chatted with me about the book's perplexing ending. It made me so happy to be able to share that with her, and having the physical book allowed me to do that.

Kindles also allow for a kind of privacy that just really annoys me. One pastime that I really enjoy when riding the T (when I'm not immersed in my own book) is looking around at what other people are reading. Sometimes they're reading the big bestsellers of the moment, other times it's an obscure title, occasionally it's a book that seems to completely clash with the person holding it. It's a fun form of people watching, and Kindles ruin that by hiding what the person is reading.

Furthermore, there is just something about a book that engages the senses in a way that technology is unable to replicate, no matter how good the quality of the the "e-ink" is. I just bought a new copy of Jane Eyre the other day, despite already having another one. So why did I bother? Because this one was leather, pretty pretty leather with silver on it, along with red-edged pages and a silver ribbon bookmark. I'm a sucker for pretty books (even more so when they're old and purchased at used bookstores). It just looks so goshdarn good on my shelf right now, and it's one of those books that's kind of like a special keepsake (and all for the low low price of $12!). I know they say that you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, and in the case of people this is sound advice. However, in the case of actual books, I'm calling bullshit. I frequently judge books by their covers. But going beyond looks, there is also something nice about the feel of a book in your hands, seeing the number of pages in your right hand decrease as your anticipation to see the events unfold increases. Books also have a smell to them, especially when they are old. One of my friends once expressed her love for smelling old books. We giggled at this, but at the same time I completely understand. It's like getting a little whiff of the history in that book.

Speaking of history, I love used bookstores. Okay, yes, a lot of the allure is cheaper prices. But it's more than that. One of my favorite bookstores is the Brattle Book Shop in Boston, which is a very old establishment. Going in there is like going on a treasure hunt. You search through sky-high mounds of books, not always sure of what you're looking for. I've found some great old copies of classics in there that have been well-loved, and I feel happy to be able to give them a new home. I often buy them even if I know I have no more room or time for them. I am to books what Angelina Jolie is to kids--I don't really need more, but I love them, so just toss a couple more on the pile. You lose this experience with a Kindle. Perusing and buying is so simple, requiring a few clicks of a button. It takes all the adventure and joy out of the discovery of books. And when you do buy them, there is no history in them, and there never will be. You will never discover someone else's notes in the margins, and will never be able to write your name on the inside cover to mark your beloved territory.

I hope that the day will never come when books are obsolete and a Kindle is my only option. Books truly have souls, which is perhaps why I am unable to part with mine. My mother once suggested I give some of mine away or sell them since I was complaining about my lack of shelf space. I looked at her as though she had just told me to sell my children. Those books, with all of their diverse stories, have become a part of MY story, and are an expression of my personality. Give them up? I'd rather let them just take over my room; the couch is comfy enough.

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