Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Last night, while re-reading and skimming sections of one of my favorite books, A Boy's Own Story by Edmund White -- in anticipation of reading his newest, Jack Holmes and His Friend -- the inevitable finally happened. The spine of the pink cover's front edge had already detached from the pages on the side a few years ago, yet still held on in the back. With a turn of about page 12, the chunk of pages 1-40 fell out. As you can imagine, I was crestfallen. Sure, poke fun, or think, a hashtag of "firstworldproblems" could easily accompany relaying this in a tweet. But, I cherish this book and had been refusing to get a new one despite its decrepitude . It's the copy I had in college, bought because a writing professor and mentor recommended it to me to discover White's illuminating and still-relevant prose, the copy I used in my American Novel class to lead a two day discussion on its first three chapters, the copy with my marginal notes and underlines -- in pencil, I promise! And, of course the first chapter -- an example of some of my favorite writing ever, and the best part of the whole book -- has to be the problem. In the midst of e-readers' increasing popularity, I couldn't help but think of my claws-in-the-dirt stance to refuse them in a sea of recent discussions about DRM and the environmental impact of print versus digital. Some may tell me condescendingly with their marketing and/or computer science/tech degrees, "This wouldn't happen if it was on a tablet." But, despite the way one of my favorite hard copy print books fell apart on me, I still resist a tablet reader, and here are the reasons:

1. I like numerical assignments to pages and despise percentages. The percent system makes it much more difficult to go back and re-read (what would one say during a class discussion or book club meeting? Let's all go to about 12% in?)
2. I cannot sell a digital book back.
3 I cannot lend a digital book to a friend. I know the different companies are working on lending features, but believe it will only be limited to that device within the company (i.e. Kindle users can lend to Kindle users only). And, even if they make lending broader, the personal quality of what lending is all about to me is lost. I recently put two of my Margaret Atwood hard copies on lend, both of which I enjoyed in Florida at different times in my life, and both of which I associate these memories with, and to me, passing them on is also like passing on that part of myself.
4. What about author signings? Two books I hold dear the most are signed by the author.
5. I cannot indulge in the pleasure of perusing used bookstores like A Reader's Corner for an hour and stumbling upon good cheap finds I ordinarily wouldn’t have thought about reading before. I cannot support local shops like Carmichaels. Even if they offer the option of purchasing e-books on their website, part of the local book shop experience is going to the shop itself, getting recommendations from the clerks or talking about books with them.

While I'm sure I can think of more, these are the primary reasons. In the boom of social media and ipads, writers are responding differently from the Margaret Atwood full embrace to the T.C. Boyle fear over what may become of such a plugged in culture. I fall somewhere in the middle. But, I know this much: I will take reading those first 40 pages in a hunk outside the bound book over caving and buying something like a Nook.

Or maybe I can duct tape the spine! I'm sure the dark gray would provide a poignant chiaroscuro against the book's hot pink front. At least better than the disappointing cover of the new edition in its boring, nasty brown and tan hues. That's for sure.

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