8/29/2016

Books: Past and Future

I love paperback books. Hardbacks look pretty on the shelf, and their larger size makes their covers more interesting to look at, but they're nearly impossible to read. The dust jacket is the first obstacle; either you expend half your attention keeping it on the book, or you set it aside and inevitably end up tearing it or creasing it so it never quite fits again. 
Hardbacks are much too heavy to read clasped between upheld arms while lying back in bed, let alone held one-handed while lying on your side. If your arms tire and you let the book settle into your chest or stomach, you have to lift it to turn a page, or risk tearing them every time you drag them across your body. Even if you read at a desk (which is plainly ridiculous) you have to deal with their unyielding spines, which won't allow you to remove your hand from the page for even a second, or you'll lose your place as the book automatically flips back to a more comfortable posture.

Paperbacks, on the other hand, are light, flexible, and cheap enough that you won't feel bad about creasing their spines to force them to stay open. You can read them in all sorts of ridiculous positions; curled up in a fetal ball, hunkered sideways on a daybed, even lying upside down on a couch with your feet in the air--and your arms will take MUCH longer to tire.

But the benefits don't stop there. Whenever I finish a chapter, before I put down the book, I take a moment to bend it in my hands and watch the way the pages move. Often, I'll buzz through them like a flip book, holding the edge close to my nose so I can draw in that dusty, woodsy smell that isn't quite "good", but is too familiar to be unpleasant.

With a hardback, I feel guilty for dog-earing the pages, but I'm too scatterbrained to keep from losing a bookmark. Paperbacks, I fold with gusto, always making sure to line up the corner of the page with the exact line I stopped on. When I resume my reading, I fold them the opposite way so they'll lay flat, but the pages never lose the telltale crease of a book that has been thoroughly and hungrily enjoyed.

Hardbacks stand stolidly on the shelf, admonishing you not to treat them carelessly, not to get too greedy for the secrets and adventures within. Every marring is a sad event, a loss of value, a reason to lecture yourself.

Paperbacks can take the abuse, heck, they revel in it. Some of the cheaper ones might start losing pages after too many reads, but a good paperback wears its scars with pride, like a soft, wrinkled baseball glove or a faded pair of jeans. They don't wear out so much as break in; they adjust to fit your hands. And just as a favorite pair of jeans might require some fancy footwork to avoid widening the knee holes while putting them on, a favorite paperback might need you to prop up those first pages that have been turned so many times the glue has lost its grip.

And if the inevitable happens, and a paperback is worn past the point of readability, you can lay it to rest and replace it without guilt or great expense. A well-read paperback goes to its grave without fuss or grief. It has done everything it was meant to do. It has fulfilled it's purpose, lived a full life, and can go to the trash heap satisfied and free of regrets.

***

I love paperbacks. But as a science fiction writer, I'm predisposed to like technology. I love ebooks too. As an author, I love how easy they are to publish. As a reader, I love how easy it is to keep them in limitless supply, right in my pocket.

I love that I can read at night without keeping my wife awake with my lamp. I love that no matter what I'm reading, I always have it with me, so no waiting room or bathroom trip ever leaves me bored. I love finishing one book and having the next literally already in my hand.

But I will never stop buying print books. And I will never be able to part with the ones I have. Even if there is no chance I'll ever read them again, I can't let them go. Even though I bemoan their immense weight every time I move, I simply cannot imagine my life without them. And no matter how many I have, I will always want more.

Even if I've already read a book in digital form, I sometimes buy a paperback copy anyway. I have several that I've never even opened. Perhaps that's wasteful, but I like the idea that I have them, should the need or desire to read them ever arise. For one thing, it's easy to lend print books. For all their benefits, that's one thing ebooks have yet to really capture.

Every time I lend a book, I say goodbye to it. If I get it back, it's a happy surprise. If not, I don't get mad. It's a bittersweet ritual I've come to savor after losing many, many books to friends and relatives.

***
I read an article recently that argued that a connection to the past is an essential ingredient in human happiness. Our psychology demands we feel as if we are part of something bigger and older than ourselves. But hope for the future is just as essential. To be happy, we need to feel as if things are getting better and easier as we soldier on in time.

Paperbacks are my connection to the past; some quite literally. There are a few that have a misty-eyes emotional connection for me. Books have been some of my favorite gifts, and I've inherited a few from friends that will always conjure up specific memories.

Ebooks are my hope for the future. When I browse my Kindle library, I always think of more books I'd like to own. With the ease of a few taps, I can put them in my Amazon wish list for future purchase. No matter where I go, I always have a full library with me, and that comforts me.

Books and ebooks have come to fill different, equally important roles in my life. I could never choose one or the other. What about you? Do you have a massive, heavy collection of books? Or is your library tucked away on a server somewhere? Let me know in the comments!