For Christmas, my very generous wife gave me a Kindle Fire. Her message was clear: “E-books are the future. Why clutter our house with more books, when you can download them on this incredibly nifty gizmo and free-up some much needed shelf space?” While I’m certainly not a luddite, I am one who tends to romanticize the past and have long wished I lived in the 1920s or 1940s. In the twenties, it was fashionable to smoke and drink and hang out in Paris. In the forties, it was fashionable to smoke and drink and wear a fedora. There was, of course, WW2—but seeing as I’m a geek for history, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
But, I digress . . . back to the Kindle Fire. The other night, I downloaded my first two books: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. I plan to read both when I fly to England next week. I’ve already read the first few pages—or is it screens?—of Darkness and found it to be an okay experience. For one who loves the physical feel of a book, however, and the act of turning the page, it is slightly odd. My day job requires that I sit for eight hours and stare at a computer screen. If I’m working on a book, then I stare at a screen all evening after I get home. That being the case, I don’t really want to stare at another screen when I read for enjoyment. Don’t get me wrong: I’m willing to give the Kindle Fire a chance—and I do love the fact you can use it to stream movies. I’m just not sure it’ll ever become my preferred method of reading.
All this was driven home to me the other night as I casually browsed one of my bookshelves. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular—just looking. For no reason whatsoever, I pulled my copy of Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher from the shelf and randomly flipped through its pages. In the middle of the book, I came across four black-and-white photographs of my grandfather as a child. One picture, taken in 1920 when he was five, shows and his two sisters posting in their old-fashioned swimsuits in a Blackpool portrait studio. It was a pleasant surprise stumbling across these images I hadn’t looked at in several years. This sort of thing can’t happen with an e-book. Books (the paper variety) are great companions. Between their pages they can hold mementos of your life, whether it’s photographs, an old love letter, or a faded theater ticket. They can be reminders of friends and family and special events. Fred Vargas’s The Night’s Foul Work will always be the book I read on my honeymoon in Maui. Between its pages is the receipt for the whale-watching tour my wife and I went on.
Growing up, my parents always gave me books for my birthday and Christmas. Without exception, they always wrote something on the inside cover, saying they couldn’t wait to read my first published book. They offered nothing but encouragement, and those books are now something I treasure. You can’t do that with an e-book. You physically keep certain books with you throughout your life because of the memories attached to them. Is it possible to be that sentimental about an e-book?
I don’t think so.