Since becoming a tactiletarian* I’ve broken up with my Kindle. It wasn’t hard. It’s been lost under the pile of papers under my desk for months. I’m sure the battery’s dead by now, and I can’t even remember what I was reading. Most likely a self-help book I didn’t want to admit to owning.
I liked it well enough when I got it for Christmas whatever year that was. Other people had raved about it – particularly women who could read Fifty Shades of Gray while sitting in the bleachers enduring yet another soccer practice – but I was dubious. For one thing, I’m addicted to the book smell. Even when I’m not in the middle of reading a book I sometimes just pull one off the shelf, crack it open and take a big whiff. It calms me. That indelible combo of the paper, ink, and adhesive is one of the happiest smells on earth. It’s the smell of being transported out of your own life and into another.**
This is not to say that the Kindle doesn’t have its uses. You can drop it in your carry-on. You can load nine million books on it. You can read all night long, and not disturb your partner. That’s not nothing.
Still, a convenient experience is not necessarily an immersive one. When I read on my Kindle, I didn’t feel like I was reading a single work with a beginning, middle and an end. It was just an endless stream of text, which I found depressing rather than enlivening. Also, those numbers at the bottom of the screen telling the “location” (Loc) and percentage read always made me feel as if was trying to read a novel while also monitoring the ship’s sonar. When I’m reading an actual book, I can just look at the side to see how much more I have left. More exciting still: when one of the main characters is murdered early in the proceedings, with a simple glance you see that this is just the beginning! There’s no need to do math.
I’ve also reverted to my old habit of lugging a few books with me when I travel. I refuse to complain about the weight. Throwing that carry-on into the overhead bin is no different than the weight-lifting I pay to do at the gym. These are books I’ve selected with care. It’s a sacred vacation-reading commitment.
A few years ago, I took the hardcover of William Finnegan’s 464 page Pulitzer prize-winning memoir Barbarian Days with me to Collioure, where it sat on the coffee table in our rental house, and became an elevated coaster for wine glasses and coffee cups. The dust jacket got a little frayed from my carrying it to the beach, the bar, and café, where I read it with pure joy. The pages got greasy with sunscreen and crusty with bug spray,*** and now it sits in my bookcase back in Portland, and I will never part with it because not only is it a fucking great book, but it also bears the history of having been lugged to France, where I read and loved it.
The Kindle, convenient as it is, erases the singularity of a book, and the singularity of the reading experience. Singularity of experience is part of the Tactiletarian credo, and I’m afraid there’s no going back.
*a much better made up word that tactilian, for obvious lizardy reasons.
**Here’s the science about why books smell so good.
***The mosquitos that year, oy!