I’m just back from a First Year Reading Experience Committee meeting. Briefly, the university is looking into a common reading program for incoming freshmen…Google “common reading program” for background. Today the committee took a list of 63 suggested titles and narrowed it down to five. Committee members will be reading these books over the holiday break. Hence the terrible pun in the title of this post…
You see, I’ll be spending the holidays back in Michigan, meaning I’ll be living out of a suitcase. I have five books to read for this committee: The Things They Carried, Bright-sided, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, In Defense of Food, and The World without Us. On top of the committee work, I am in the middle of two books of fiction (City of Thieves and Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned), one book review for Choice (Virtue and Vice, Moral and Epistemic), and two books on librarianship (Questioning Library Neutrality and Humanism and Libraries). That’s a grand total of ten (10!) books to pack and take up north. All that space in my suitcase! The added weight! The lack of convenience! But, Khristy has her own books…two or three books on Descartes, Inferno, Primal Myths, The Norton Book of Classical Literature, and at least two or three more. Man, I must really want an Kindle right about right now….
Except, I don’t. Even in the case where e-readers are supposed to shine, I’m still not impressed. I want physical books that take up space and make my luggage heavier. I want to be reminded of the physicality of those books every time I rearrange the luggage to get Liam another toy. I want a stack of books on my nightstand and the promise that when I go home I can put those books on the shelf next to the hundreds of other books that make me dread moving to another house. You see, I like to have physical books around as souvenirs, as mementos, as proof…the simple haeccity of the books on the shelf is of unimaginable value.
It’s not that I have anything against ebooks; they are justifiably useful, convenient, capable, and popular. But, ebooks are pure content, they lack the ‘thingness’ inherent in printed books. Physical books combine content with an extension in space that reaffirms their importance. Whether standing in rows on shelves or stacked on tables, paper books are there in a way that ebooks cannot be, and I like that. I like that Liam is growing up in a home with shelves of books in every room, reliquaries of our collective mental lives. I like that, as he grows up, books will be part of the architecture of his childhood, a subtle reminder of the importance of imagination, creativity, and intellect. Some people frame physical photographs and hang them on the wall; I shelve books.
So, I still don’t want an ereader. Neither cost nor convenience will sway me. I would rather curse and sweat over the inconvenience of packing 10 or 20 books because in that instant the books reassert themselves as more than mere containers: they are souvenirs of the mind.