Monday, August 2, 2010

"Josie, You Should Get a Kindle": In Defense of the Physical Act of Reading Books

I posted this picture from Suicide Blonde's tumblr on Facebook the other day with a note saying that I'd probably create a glorious little hideout like this if left to my own devices. It inspired one of my friends to mention what has become a common theme in my life - the idea that I should consider a Kindle.
This is not a bad idea, and neither this friend nor any of the myriad people who have suggested it before her should think I am upset over the suggestion, because I have considered buying a Kindle, particularly for travel. When I went to Florida this year, I left Worcester with four books and V magazine and came back with V Magazine, Vanity Fair (apparently what I really want out of my periodicals is the 22nd letter of the alphabet), and nine books, one of which was an 1947 copy of Thackeray's Vanity Fair. That is ridiculous, frankly, and heavy. A Kindle would significantly lighten the load and solve two of my biggest air travel problems: the complete crap that most airport bookstores stock, and the wonkiness of those little lights on the airplane that never quite light your pages the way you want them to. I might get one some day, but I'm not in a rush and it won't ever replace the ridiculous number of books I already have and will continue to accumulate.

There is something to the physical act of reading that appeals to me. I don't think I need to explain the appeal of older or more luxurious bindings - there's nothing quite like turning wonderful thick pages holding clear black printing in a really top notch binding. I was recently at the home of a friend who has a stunning collection of old volumes, all bound in leather with embossing and gilding and all kinds of magic, and whenever I've been there, there's something that happens to my heart and I have to remind myself, Kindergarden-style, to keep my hands to myself and not touch the art. There is a visual and tactile appeal to well bound books that doesn't need elaboration for people with hands and eyeballs. For me personally, reading actual books lets me go back and reference things if I need to. I find I can usually remember about where in a book the information I want to go back to is, and I can't do the same with electronic writings.

Most of all, I think that turning actual pages is important. There's a whole vein of nervousness about the overuse of technology that is also in play here, but I do think that having to turn pages in a book is an important part of being truly immersed in a story. It seems to me that your emotional mind tends to operate constantly and independent from your academic mind, almost as white noise for your conscious life. In that split second it takes to turn the page, your conscious mind takes a break and your emotional mind carries on with the feeling of the story. These repeated moments allow you to broaden and deepen your experience with the book, and maybe for your mind to wander off to connect the book in your hands with all the books that came before it, or the songs you've heard, or the films you watched.

Now, it's possible I'm just talking out of my neck here. I'm not a psychologist nor do I have any kind of scientific proof to back this idea up, but I do know what happens when I read, and doing so on a computer or other electronic device changes that. That's why even if I do buy a Kindle, or a Nook, or an iPad, or whatever, I'll still have my books, no matter how much of a pain it is to move them or how many bookcases I overload. I can't imagine a literary life without standing touching the covers and pages, and standing in the bookstore smelling the paper and glue. I can't imagine that life without having that same immersion - that's what made me stay up until midnight in elementary school reading The Secret Garden and Nancy Drew books, and what keeps me up with Montesquieu and Nabokov today.


  1. Agreed. I love the tactile loveliness of *books*, and though I'm considering a Kindle for travel and documents from Project Gutenberg I would never ever in a million years give up my bookshelves' worth of reading material.

  2. I think both have their positives, but I like the feel and smell of books the same way you do. I also think that if I had a kindle it would probably be destroyed within seconds of having it in my hands. I frequently eat and drink whilst reading.