The past few weeks I have been toying with the idea of getting an e-reader. Many of the books I need for my research and some of the books I want to read are located in and sold from places where shipping and handling charges are way over the price of the books themselves. I do understand the price of transport and duties; my interests though have weighed towards my meagre pocket as a PhD student. Selfish indeed!
When the newly launched Amazon.nl promised a ‘cheap’ Kindle Paperwhite via Amazon.de they got my attention. I realized, still the kit would land up being 145-euros-approx. If I signed up for a particular credit card I would be spared 30-euros. A concept I find disturbing and problematic. That I don’t subscribe to the idea of the credit card also adds to my dismay. How on earth am I ever going to keep track of the endless paper trails I drop each time I say yes to possess? What a tangled web we weave when we try to …. (apologies to the Gods of rhyme) try to live (albeit stylishly) within our means.
To add to this – I romanticize the physicality of books. Mea culpa! Sitting in the metro for long hours I often read, or look at the covers of books people are holding, fingers wrapped around paper, eyes darting, some slowly, others fast, a twitch of the lips, a gentle smile, a furrowed line in between the brows – I look for these signs. The language of these books might be different, the topics similar or dissimilar to my taste but in those rare quiet moments I feel a camaraderie. A kinship for those who seek stories and meaning; for those who travel via books in an inexplicable way travel together. E-readers (hence referred to as ERs), indeed, as well denote readership but in isolation, there is no cover peeking through gripped fingers. Thus, offering a privacy that crushes my romantic voyeurism.
ERs, as the publishing industry will argue, works besides and not as a binary opposition to books. Is this how selling out begins? I wonder what happens to the weight of books, carrying Shakespeare’s Sonnets back and forth to university my shoulders ached, my neck struggled, when I downloaded it on to the Kindle app on my phone it seemed to me that I belittled the text. My body asked me to shut up and accept the easy reading of the pixels, wasn’t the backlight in some of these readers meant to delay the formation of cataracts? Despite this, my heart rebels. Is there a strange value in physical weight? (What would the pundits of fashion say?).
I am not allergic to technology. At one point in time in my life I actually studied code (I know – it went the same way as Law School – that is for another day). I am fond of Apple products. I enjoy my HP laptop – bulky and old it has brought me great comfort. I play Candy Crush, and Candy Crush Soda. I blog. I have enjoyed my Moleskin notebooks as well as my Notes app on my iPhone – then why indeed does my heart ache just that bit more when it comes to ERs? And here is the epiphany I came to this morning while dusting my shelves – Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter jutted out – it was a book that belonged to my grandfather, later to my aunt, and then it came to me as I studied Literatures in English. Sons and Lovers, Mill on the Floss, Wuthering Heights, Complete Works of Saki, that old withered copy of Treasure Island that belonged to Purab when he was a wee lad, thumbed down and stained. And, as I touch their spines I feel connected. Odd that connectivity is enabled by technology yet these placid pages are not connected to any hyper networks, or are they? These books had lives, and were part of the lives of people I no longer have with me and of time that has passed.
I remind myself – besides – and not against. How many more shelves will I build? Roughly each wall in my house is either covered in bookshelves or relevant art. Will I be the last generation to appreciate the physical nature of the textbook? I run my fingers on Bambi’s Mercy Watson books, how he loves them, how he pours over his Grapes of Math – like I did – over Grapes of Wrath. I would hope not. But who knows – I am human – and only time holds answers. The knot remains so. As our receptionist shares with me an old volume of the photographs of the American Civil War, I appreciate what I have now – the cusp at which I find myself. Here and there. I gravitate towards that balance I need to find between my nurtured uneasiness and the organic path of publication evolution. Wish me luck.
Though it is not a binary opposition – for more information: click here
Edited to add: With the new billing options turns out Amazon will not allow me to buy certain e-books. I found the June Jordan collection of poems Directed by Desire on Google Play. Just for 7-euros, that too. Looks like using the computer via apps might give me the multi-platform flexibility I need. If you have any ideas / suggestions on this please email me or add to the comments section.