Back in the day, as they say, when a lot was two words and a newspaper lede (which this is right here – the opening paragraph) was a lead, and when a woman was called Jaymie it was spelled Jamie and not Jaime, which should be pronounced Hymay as it is in Spanish, back then when all was right with the world (but not nearly as right as it is today), I read books. Real books with bindings and pages, both hard and soft cover. I still do.
I love real books. I love to hold and read real books. Love the smell of pulp. Love the feel of type. Love to handle the pages. What I do not love is to read words that are under glass or plexiglass or lexan or the latest nonbreakable polycarbonate. I understand eBooks and eBook readers. I know my Kindle from my Nook (yet still wonder why someone has yet to market the Cranny). I understand their technological advancement and theoretical value. This marvel speaks to the hearts of constant travelers who love to carry all the Great Books of the Western World next to their dopp kits.
I like my books one at a time. I’m rarely away from books or on trips where I need more than one. Primarily I read for pleasure and like to savor what I read. No need to rush through good writing. I like fiction and poetry. But I also like memoirs and biographies of memorable characters with minds of steel, hearts of gold and feet of clay. Books in the department of Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen. What I can’t stand are books by or about people who are famous for being famous, especially those won’t-you-pity-me, tell-all confessionals. Those books found in the category of Oh, How the Fallen have become Mighty.
As a washashore I can continue my love for real books. My wife and I love living between the Vineyard Haven Library and Bunch of Grapes. It’s like being hugged between the warmth and comfort of tradition. Possibly a vanishing tradition, I grant you, but a tradition nonetheless. A short walk here, a short walk there, and I’m surrounded by books, not to mention quiet, air-conditioning and helpful people. Both Vineyard Haven institutions provide sustenance for the soul. To browse, to leaf, to sit, to dream.
The rest of the time I find myself browsing in the library and book store inside my house. In the three times we have moved during my marriage, I have managed a steady unloading of books from my collection, a continuing process of divestiture. Last move I finally got rid of just about all of my college texts. When we moved into this house, there was limited wall space. We were faced with choices: paintings, photos or bookcases? We had a talented carpenter come in and add built-in cases around the fireplace. Yet most of our books are now downstairs in a finished part of the basement in seven free-standing bookcases and three Rubber Maid cabinets. I’m sure as we take root in our community more books will go — to the Thrift Shop and library book sales.
But in our house I still can’t imagine the day when the books will all be swept away for an eBook reader or two. I’m sure I’ll continue to live out my life weighing the options: tradition versus convenience, desire versus price.
To my way of thinking, a real book is still cheaper. Here’s one example of my price fear. It’s a hot summer day and you’re on the beach. You’re reading but sweat blurs your vision, so you move your chair into the shallow water. Now then if you drop that paperback, you’re out about $20. You drop your eBook reader, you’re out a lot more (as opposed to a lot) — at least a couple of summer restaurant dinners.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s time to get with the program, time to let the body snatchers invade in the name of progress. But first, let me remind you of the story of Ned Ludd, a lad who entered the 19th century kicking and screaming. He was a textile weaver in England. He and his fellow artisans, so the story goes, were overworked, underpaid and badly treated. Then along came the Industrial Revolution. Ned found himself replaced by stocking frames, power looms and other knitting devices that did not talk back or ask for raises. Rather than go gentle into that good night, Ned Ludd raged against the machines, smashing two of them to smithereens. Those who followed in his protest were called Luddites — his name forever associated with resistance to change. Maybe Luddites aren’t such stick-in-the-muds after all.
I’m sure 500 years ago all those people vested in quill pens and papyrus weren’t too happy with Gutenberg’s idea either.
And I’m sure if I went to the Vineyard Haven Library I could find out more about Ludd and Gutenberg in real books — at least for now if not forever. And I promise not to take a hammer to a Nook. Barnes and Noble might beat me to that anyway.
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.