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An Open Book: Ex Libris, Part II, Kill The Kindle

on February 28, 2019 - 10:42am

Los Alamos

Note to Reader: This Open Book column is part of my occasional “Ex Libris” series about books that I love, or not, and is dedicated to Leadership Los Alamos, Class of 2019, the best class ever!

Some avid readers consider the Kindle one of humanity’s great inventions, and my wife is among them. She can’t restrain her excitement when, with a click or two, whatever book she wants to read flies to her Kindle like magic. The Amazon book she was recommended by a friend, poof, it flies to her Kindle. The library book she borrows from the Los Alamos or even Albuquerque library, poof, it flies to her Kindle. And when we wanted to get a book to our daughter-in-law in Europe, poof, it even flew overseas to Prague and showed up on her Kindle in seconds.

As a techie, it is not actually the Kindle itself that I dislike; it’s a fine way to read a newspaper or a blog or to carry a library of books under your pillow like my son did when he spent a year overseas. However, the concept of an e-book is an abomination of the centuries-old ceremony of reading. Amazon and their ilk have distilled this sanctified transmission of knowledge to a dry synopsis, like turning a warm friendship into a legal contract. It’s the difference between eating a green chile cheeseburger and grinding it into a smoothie to be sipped through a straw. Same nutritional value for sure, and close your eyes and it might even taste the same. But open your eyes again and what you hold is a plastic cup instead of a juicy, dripping mess that you have to separate your jaws like a snake to attack with gusto.

E-books are convenient and permanent and forever pristine. But they are not of this world. A haunted spirit, it appears via incantations, and incantations can destroy it as well; just forget your Amazon password. But real books are of this, our world. Books age over time like people do, and they smell of aging as we, old people do, and only because of this, their smell becomes that of wisdom and adventure.  Real books, if loved and read too much, will be destroyed by this love, and pages will fall like petals from a flower whose scent was drawn too often. But e-books will be as pure and as sterile the first or the hundredth time it is read, like that Gothic novel antihero who never gets older.

If I can help it, I will not buy a new book. Finding a used book in a musty, dirty bookstore is bringing it back from a premature entombment on the top shelf or the back-room. They have bookmarks that hint of owners long-ago. Used books have inscriptions from teachers or lovers. They have penciled prices that remind you of what a great deal you got. There is no such thing as a used e-book because there is no such thing as a new e-book.

And real books that can be rejuvenated as well. Remember that book that you read to your sleepy child in a corner of the bedroom so long ago? Go on and open it again. Let it cuddle up to you as you cuddled back then, and find a new little friend to let it fall under its trance, one page at a time. Large and awkward to carry, ripped and chewed and spotted with liquid Tylenol, flip pages slowly as you whisper their script. The lights will dim and the letters will be hard to read, unaided by an unearthly glow.  And in the approaching darkness, as once it did, this book will accompany you and your new cuddling partner across mountains and oceans, to where bears talk and cats wear magical hats, but faster and farther than any e-book ever will.