Monday, May 23, 2011

E-Books vs. Print Books -- For HEATED Reading?

The news is in -- e-book sales have officially surpassed sales of print books. I don't have an e-book reader of any kind. Why? Well, it's not because of some old sentimental thing I've got for the book itself, as you might guess of a writer. I don't get weepy about paper and glue-bindings and keep books in pristine condition for my library. The reason is the opposite.

I rough my books UP.

I dog-ear them, underline, write in the margins (arguments with the author), rip off their jackets (luridly?). If a book has spare pages in the back, I often fill them with notes, ideas, or letters to other writers (often times Fred Chappell for some reason -- I've written him dozens of letters in the backs of books that I later rip out but don't send. Why him? He's one of those author-teachers I owe and owe and owe -- but I'll save that for a Chappell post).

The books that have been important to me show it. They wear my hours. I can open one of them up -- say Mary Morrissy's Mother of Pearl (not to be confused with the Oprah pick of the same title) -- and I know what I was working on at the time I first read it. I can trace her words back to the hand print she made by forcing her hand in the wet cement of my mind. I can see what I was thinking on the page. I know that reading a certain passage changed my mind on a character of my own making. I look back on those pages and think -- damn, I don't even remember that earlier character, that floaty being, that milksop.

My copy of Flannery O'Connor's letters -- The Habit of Being -- are filled with notes about the south of France, including the inspection of roadside snail shells and the discount prices for pate in the super market circulars.

I also have been known to throw books -- maybe spike them is a better word. I get mad at books. Usually, this heightened hostility comes in waves. In this mood, there really isn't a book that's going to please me. They all have on fatal flaw: they rely on language and when I've given up on words, there's no appeasing me. Books will fly.

You can't spike a Kindle. Well, you can. But it gets expensive. I'm guessing Kindles don't slap and skid nicely like books do.

But, when I return to my senses, and maybe I mean that the words again attach and bind to my senses, it's the books -- stacks of them around me at all times -- that prop me up. They're my shifting pillars.

I gave a novel that I'd read and loved to a good friend. This friend is an avid reader, a fast reader, a reader who often loves what she reads. In other words, this reader is the opposite of me. I usually don't like what I read. I am, in fact, an angry reader. I start out jaded and hostile. The writer has to work -- hard -- but if I take off its jacket, it's a good sign. If I grab a pen, even better.

My friend read the book and gave it back to me. She said, "Well now I get why you read so slowly. You have a deep wholly engaged ongoing relationship with the writer on the page. It must be exhausting."

A good book is exhausting.

I've learned how to skim. I've had to teach myself. And there are lots of books that would be perfect for me to read on a hand-held device, and, yes, I've been told there are highlighting functions etc ...

But a small dog-ear means one thing, a deep one another. Underlining is good, back-talk even better. How would a book on an e-reader know the moment I'd started to undress it? How would I even know?

So, yes, one day I'll get one -- my mother keeps berating me -- and some books will exist there just fine, but there are others that won't. At the end of a good read, the book should feel it -- down to the kink in its spine.