Sunday, August 12, 2012


It's easy to forget a thing that isn't a book. Especially something that pretends to be a book. The other night I put my Kindle Fire - my large-paperback-sized notbook containing Joyce, Chekhov, Thoreau, Vonnegut, Tolstoy, Dick, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Fitzgerald, Hardy, Hemingway, you name them, and many other favorite authors' books - down beside the bathroom sink, and when I'd finished brushing my teeth beside all those literary icons I turned off the light and went upstairs to bed, where I was going to read, and forgot to take a whole library with me. We have much to get used to in the world that is coming.

I forgot my Kindle Fire because as I say it's not a book; my mind doesn't love it the way it loves a book, doesn't heft it or revere it like a book, and never will. My realback books, on the other hand, I have always guarded like my own skin and never left behind. I'd leave my bag behind sometimes, or even my wallet or glasses or car keys, but never my book. The book was always in my hand, where it was held dear. There was an umbilical aspect to our relationship.

When I use my notbook, even after several months I still can't fully digest the fact that there are hundreds of volumes in there, largely public domainers I used to have to pay for nonetheless, because they'd been "published" in hefty paperbacks that were in themselves an accomplishment of manufacture, but back then their cost gave them worldly value. In the notbook, a big thick book is the same as a little thin book; all you get is one silently sliding page at a time, though out of lifelong habit as my eye reads down the page my dutiful forefinger creeps up toward the corner to get ready to turn the page that - is not there - the finger nonetheless searching in space on its own, like an inchworm. Even after several months, my faithful finger refuses to abandon this lifelong occupation and slides up to the corner, to - oh, this isn't a real book, is it - the forlorn digit (big etymology there...) reminds me with its sudden unemployment. Moreover, I don't close the device, I turn it off. You don't turn a book off! And how do you console an unemployed finger?

Nothing like book2notbook has ever happened to humans before. When we went from scroll to Gutenberg we didn't have any trouble remembering the book; we didn't forget the book because it wasn't a scroll. Nor did early scrollers-to-booksters try to unroll their book to open it, or try to roll it up when they finished, they just closed it. They slipped easily into the book groove, their forefingers happy with their new job; there were none of the surprises that await me at every nonturn with my notbook, unlearning things I never thought I knew, like my forefinger, or the entire me, unnecessarily rolling over in bed to comfortably read the next page.

Now I can read in complete darkness! Or turn up/down the page brightness! These are not book inherencies. The digital book has brought with it a whole new set of concepts I've had to open up to for the first time: how, for example, take possessive delight in a masterpiece in digital form? I still can't. A file is not a book, insists my old mind, even as I read; I don't feel the visceral connection of true possession. When it's only numbers, there's just something digital about it.

The bookmind has other problems, some of which may fade as I advance into this new and deweydecimalless life, carrying my library in one hand. For example, Great Gatsby and War and Peace now have the same heft. Also, the fact that I am devouring Ulysses is unobservable by others. How can I impress an interesting lady at the cafe by browsing an invisible Tropic of Cancer? Scorsese's cinema masterpiece After Hours could never have developed if the main character had been reading a Kindle. That feeling of weighty accomplishment under way is gone too, as is that deep sense of reward implicit in the heft of what is being portioned deliciously into my mind, of feeling how much has been read and how much remains to be read by the relative volumes of pages; priceless measures of effort and gain to the veteran reader. But no more.

So what happens from here? Digitally, so much is now out of the question. Terabytes of zeros and ones just ain't got it. Spacial and voluminous reality will always matter, at least until we ourselves become digital; but in my present form, how backbreakingly heavy are the many hundreds if not thousands of actual books on my shelves and in boxes stacked upstairs that I dare not open or I'll be absorbed for hours, dare not move or I'll be in pain. Fact is, they're getting to be a burden by comparison: how crude, to be lifting and moving those chunks of increasingly dead weight around for the rest of my life...

Yet I can't forget them, unlike the entire canon by the bathroom sink.


WOL said...

I put down what was for me a proportionately large chunk of change for my Kindle, and I don't leave it lying around for exactly that reason -- the fact that it would be very difficult to come up with the money to replace it. I'm living on a fixed income and a tight budget. Money makes my choices, not aethetics. When I buy a book, money always figures into it. I buy the (used) dead tree editions when they are cheaper than the Kindle version. I've embraced the technology. The thought of being able to carry 3500 books around in my bag is a big sell with me -- and with the music apps I have -- internet radio stations, music services -- it is a truly prized bit of tech.

June Calender said...

Love the word "notbook" which I think you use intentionally. Have not come to love the idea enough to purchase one especially as my bookshelves are laden with real books I have yet to read. With eye problems, however, the light of the notbook makes it tempting. I could see without having to sit myself under my brightest lamps. But not yet, not yet.

Dalene said...

These Notbooks are so (pause for the kindest descriptive word possible)so utilitarian. There is no visual beauty. I have hundreds of books that line my bookshelves that fill an entire wall and each with its own unique aesthetic presence. I can slowly run my fingers along a row of books and feel the difference in texture from one book to the next until I stop at just the right book for my mood and intellectual needs to pull from the shelf. And the smell of ink on paper, aged or new, when opened triggers deep brain memories of all the adventure, intrigue, humor, wisdom, people and worlds met in books past. Sometimes I see our future and I am not impressed. Notbooks fit this unimpressive category. I will, one day, I am certain, grudgingly own a Notbook, but secretly and not so secretly have little appreciation for it. Notbooks are the invisible fork in the road where I become officially old as technology races onward.