The unbearable heaviness of books
Free books! Free books! What book lover can turn down a free, newly printed book? Unbroken-spine, that paper and ink smell, those sharp edges trimmed by the printer just hours before?
Last week I attended the American Library Association's mid-winter conference in Seattle. I happened to be on the trade show floor around closing time, and I happen to live in the area. So when I heard book vendors announcing that they were giving out their sample books—free—I couldn't resist.
It was like an all-you-can-eat buffet of words. It reminded me of the Mark Strand poem that begins:
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
I took a few books from the nice folks at the Penguin booth. A few books from Random House. Many books from smaller publishers. Some were pre-release versions, some were unedited editions, some were actual good-enough-for-sale books. Whatever the status, if it had words lined up into a story, I wanted it. And I took it.
I think I had about two dozen books (and two free tote bags) when I realized I had a really big problem.
I'd taken public transportation to the conference. I was going to have to carry all of this stuff all the way to the terminal.
And it weighed a lot. A whole lot.
That's when it hit me.
The unbearable heaviness of books.
Books weigh a lot. And every book has its own mass.
My e-reader weighs the same whether it has one title inside or one thousand.
That's an unbalanced situation if ever there was one.
My mind raced to the future. One day, I'm going to tell my grandchildren the story of this conference and they are going to roll their eyes.
"Gramma," they're going to say, "Why would anyone need to carry a separate—thing—for each story they wanted to read?"
By the time my children's children are old enough to be read to (or sooner) the world will have come around to the absurdities of paperbound books.
Let's look at some of the many absurdities here:
- paperbound books are heavy
- paperbound books take up natural resources (wood, gas to transport and process them)
- paperbound books are one-shot deals (one story per unit)
- paperbound books cannot be transferred via network, they have to be schlepped around
- paperbound books are expensive (though for me, in this case, they were free, and that's why I had to grab them all)
Every single one of these absurdities disappears with digital books.
So, what can paperbound books give us that e-books cannot?
Okay, I admit, one thing they give us that e-books cannot is a tactile experience. But if touching a book is so important, why is a work of Shakespeare so much better than a work by... Dean Koontz? They both feel the same. I'd much rather read Hamlet on my Kindle than thumb through a Dean Koontz thriller any day. (Sorry Dean.)
Books are not about touching. They are about going somewhere in your imagination.
So there I was, lugging all of these tomes across town. By the time I got to my public transportation terminal, my back was killing me, so were my shoulders, elbows and feet. But I had 24 new books in my possession! Only after I read every one of them is anyone going to tear them away from me!
Then again, maybe I won't let anyone tear them away, ever. I'll save them to show to my granddaughter one day. She might be surprised by the weight of the relics.