During a recent visit to Barnes and Noble's, I saw a woman reading a book. Well, I assume it was a book, but I couldn't tell. It turns out that it is impossible to know what other people are doing with their Kindles. (I don't even know which verb to use with Kindle - did the woman "read" her Kindle, did she "use" her Kindle, or did she just "Kindle"?) My memories flew me back to the good old days in London, when the first Harry Potter book had become an overnight sensation. The dozens and dozens of people I'd see on the tube every day, reading their copy - it was like a secret society. I have always been curious about the books others are reading, but the Potter craze was something I had never seen before. I wonder how many people might have picked up their Potters partly because they saw so many people reading theirs. And then, along comes this woman with her Kindle, with her secret, private reading experience.
It is no surprise to anyone, I am sure, that I have profoundly negative feelings toward Kindle and other electronic reading devices. I arrange my books by colour, I am known to sometimes buy a book just because it is pretty, and just in general, I feel very emotional about my books. I get angry if an old book gets a movie adaptation cover, and I feel bad for a book whose cover is ugly. The first thing I did back in university when encountering a new textbook (they were always ugly: they'd only come in paperback, decorated with geometrical designs and horrid pastel colours) was to smell it, in order to somehow make a connection with it. It didn't always end well: I did badly in certain exams just because I couldn't immerse myself in a book that looked and felt offensive. When writing essays, I'd steer my topics toward older research, get fixated on finding some random, old books, go to the university library and take my time to find anything that was old, hardback and if possible, something that hadn't been taken out since the 1960s. The pages of these types of books always felt more substantial. The proper, coarse paper always felt more valuable compared to that smelly, gliding, shiny paper you see in new textbooks. Poems printed on Bible-type paper, thin, silky and smooth, would always seem more sophisticated and delicate than any online version could. The words might have been the same, but the experience wasn't. For whatever reason, the information I found (and used) in the old books would always land me a good grade and notes in the margin: "Excellent bibliography! Thorough research!" I felt that old books at their best were trustworthy, like an old friend, or at their worst, at least scandalous, which I could use to my advantage somehow.
There is just something very special about a book that was properly printed back in the day. For example, there was that haunting, slightly crooked "k" that was printed unevenly, either above or below the other letters: that "k" would appear from the first page to the last, and to me it would somehow signal the time-consuming process of consideration, that this word, this letter "k", is worth printing. And there is something about a book that was read by others: annoying, badly-chosen underlining, for example. It would never seize to amaze me that some people actually underline an entire paragraph - but I always appreciated that the proof of that action was there, and I'd waste considerable amounts of time trying to figure out why someone would have underlined a particular passage. Ex Libris or other markers of past ownership, bread crubs between the pages, stains, odd smells and the like - to me, these are profoundly interesting and crucial aspects of any reading experience. Of course, most of these can be found only in old books, but with new ones, it is I who gets to leave something behind, for someone else to enjoy or loathe.
And again, I think of the woman and her Kindle. What is rather sad is that after that first moment of curiousity, I haven't given much thought to what she was reading. Instead, I have thought of Kindle and what all of this might mean to the future of books: that one day books will probably be considered profoundly silly and inefficient. I have thought about the last scene of Fahrenheit 451 (ironically, not the book but Truffaut's 1966 movie) where the book-keepers walk around in a bare forest, citing and essentially becoming the books they are trying to keep alive. I have thought about electronics making human memory unnecessary: why memorise anything, why run your finger across printed words when it is so much more convenient to download a text, any text, onto your mobile phone? I have thought about how much I love books, and how depressing it would be to study at the new Applied Engineering and Technology library at the University of Texas - its collection of 425 000 volumes and 18 000 journal articles are only available online.
Top: Max&Co., 2008
Cardigan: Benetton sample sale, 2007
Skirt (actually, it is a dress): Tuuli's old, 2010
Knee socks: H&M
Shoes: Fly London, 2008