Saturday, December 24, 2011

Kindle My Heart

"Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower, or a . . . a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell musty and . . . and . . . and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is a . . . it, uh, it has no-no texture, no . . . no context. It's . . . it's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, then . . . then the getting of knowledge should be, uh, tangible . . . it should be, um, smelly."

Giles, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

"Is this it? This time I die?"
"Could be? What sort of answer is that?" said Vimes.
Thud!, by Terry Pratchett

I haven't been posting too frequently the past few weeks. I have a splendid excuse: for my birthday last month, my parents got me a Kindle.

Oooh. Aaaah. Jolie.
I am enamoured of my Kindle. I have become a Kindle addict. The Kindle fits in my purse, between my wallet and my day planner, and can be popped out at an instant's notice. I have not experienced forty-five seconds together of boredom since I opened this thing. Any spare second that I have . . . waiting behind one person buying one thing in a grocery store line, sitting at a red light that I know is going to keep me there for a whole thirty-five seconds, flossing my labor-intensive brace-covered teeth, even waiting on the phone while a customer looks for his/her/its credit card, I have the Kindle. I have a book.

Because Kindle Pages can be turned with one finger, you only need to hold it in one hand. This is useful when you're trying to do something else with your other hand, like cook dinner or disarm a ticking bomb. It also means that on cold winter nights (or days . . . it's been a cold week), the only parts of you that have to be outside the covers are your eyeballs, your nose, and one finger.

Kindle makes books magically appear. Sunday afternoon, I had just finished reading Snuff, and I thought to myself, "Man, I really wish I could read another Sam Vimes novel. I love those Watch books. I know there are more. I shall have to go to the library at some point in the near future and see what they have in." And then the Kindle popped up a little window that proffered Night Watch, Feet of Clay, Guards! Guards!, Thud!, and Men at Arms to have for my very own at five dollars a pop.* All I had to do was twizzle my finger. It didn't even feel like spending money; the Kindle knows my credit card number, and helpfully handles all the sordid details. I pushed a button and got another book to keep me quiet about all the problems of the universe for another six hours.

What really tickles me about this is that it's Good For Me. Throughout all of my young life, I have learned an important distinction: things that flicker are Bad For You, and things that hold steady are Good For You. Television: Bad. Video games: Bad. Putzing around on the internet: Bad. Flickery screens rot your brain and make you antisocial and keep you from getting healthful exercise.

The joy of a Kindle is that it does not have a flickery screen. It has a steady, non-glowy display-thing. It's a glorified Etch-A-Sketch. Etch-a-Sketch is good, wholesome fun. Pages with words on them are edifying and uplifting. Reading makes you smart. Literature is good for your brainz. The Kindle is therefore a paragon of virtue, and I can feel smug, rather than guilty, when I whip it out of my purse.

Now, if you're reading this post soon after reading my earlier post on the King's English, you may be thinking, "Oh, Blogger, poor, poor Blogger . . . you have succumbed to the temptations of technology. You have abandoned the printed page. You are a traitor to your ilk." I would like a chance to argue in my own defense.

First off, I would like to show you two of the most precious treasures that I own.

The red volume is Jane Eyre. This particular copy was printed in 1946. It's got the price written on the flyleaf in pencil, a mark of where it passed through the hands of a used bookseller. I don't know where it came from. I think I plucked it off a family bookshelf when I was about ten years old, and in that ravenous phase where I had to be reading something, ANYTHING, or I would start beating my head against the wall. I devoured the thing.
I had no context for the story. There are no explanatory notes, no analytical essays, attached to the book. It just begins at the beginning and finishes at the end, whether you understand the world you've been dragged into or not. I didn't understand a great chunk of what was going on, but I knew I was addicted. To this day, this particular volume is what Jane Eyre looks like and feels like and smells like to me. I've owned other editions, shiny paperbacks with historical commentaries and helpful footnotes, but as far as I'm concerned they are just reprints of this crumbling volume with the disorienting line-drawn illustrations and the binding that leaves crumbles of powdered maroon binding on your hands and clothes as you read it.

Since I just turned in my application to do a Master's degree in Victorian literature, I think it's safe to say that this book changed my life.

The Three Musketeers I got as a Christmas gift when I was around the same age. It was one of four; the other three were Wuthering Heights, A Tale of Two Cities, and Dracula. As you can see, somebody splurged. They spent a whole two dollars, plus tax, on feeding my voracious brain.

It took me about five tries to make it through The Three Musketeers. Dumas is not a concise storyteller. This book still enchants me. Adventure, romance, high-speed chases, midnight escapades, mysterious secrets, swoon-worthy heroes. Swash, swash, buckle, buckle. This fifty-cent paperback is soft with the oils of my hands. The corners are all rounded away. It's got marks throughout the text marking phases that I went through . . . my 'I need to censor out profanity in my books' phase (this is why Athos says damn a lot) and the 'Every piece of paper is a suitable notebook' phase and the 'I must underline pithy phrases' phase. And yet, through all these phases, the bookmark still stuck into this volume is the same ragged corner that I tore off some other random thing the first time I dove into the ultimate adventure story. Boy howdy, did I get my parents' fifty cents worth out of that volume. When I first turned on my shiny, beautiful Kindle, the first thing I did was download Jane Eyre. I hardly had a choice. Any library that I own, physical or digital, must contain Jane Eyre. It's a rule. Then, when I had a bit more time to let the WiFi swallow the longer text, I crammed The Three Musketeers into my little gray machine.

This does not mean that I can finally recycle those paper copies that have been hanging around my life for the last fifteen years. No Way. I want to be buried with those books. Somehow, it strikes me as silly to be buried with a Kindle. A Kindle is useful, but it is not precious. The contents of a Kindle are backed up on some giant hard drive somewhere, and can be replaced when the machine itself is destroyed in a six-car pileup (caused by some idiot reading behind the wheel). These books are unique to me. If they are destroyed, they can never come again. I can get a new edition . . . but that's like making new friends when you move to a new city. New friends are all well and good, but they don't slot neatly into the holes in your heart that your old friends have left. Those remain forever. That's what love is.

I love books.

*And that's Amazon cutting its own throat, that is.


  1. Did you know you can get Kindle books from the library too? I have cards at four libraries in the area, and they all have different Overdrive holdings.

  2. I'm so glad Kindles are so easily replaceable. Otherwise I would have to hate the Matterhorn.