Friday, May 28, 2010

Tactile Pleasures

Embedded in Lisa Peet's wrapup of Day Two at BookExpo America at the Like Fire blog is a nifty story highlighting the tactile pleasures of books.  Peet has read several books on her Kindle device, but was left feeling vaguely dissatisfied by at least one novel, Paul Harding's Tinkers.  She writes:
I enjoyed it well enough, but on finishing I knew that I’d have to buy the book in print form as well.  I didn’t give much thought to the reason. It was a purely emotional response:  The book is as intricate as the tinker’s horse-drawn wagon, filled with rows of small wooden drawers, that it describes.  I wanted to hold it in my hands, flip back and forth and see words and paragraphs in relation to actual pages.  That’s not always necessary for everything I read, but it was for Tinkers.  In my case, it’s what the book wanted, and I can’t put it better than that.
I can't either.

I don't own a Kindle.  While I'm not morally opposed to them, I just don't see myself owning one any day soon.  Sure, there's something to be said for having multiple books in the palm of my hand, and I'm all for greening the environment, and Lord knows I couldn't live without the 13,000 songs on my iPod.  But the truth is, I can only read one Kindled book at a time.

Furthermore, when I read a book, I like to feel it.  Not the cool synthetic, amalgamated shell of an e-reader, but the fibrous textiles of individual books.  The book as an object--from the cover art to the velvet whisper of turning pages--is as much a part of the reading experience as the contents.  Even now, I can recall the wrist-ache from holding Don Quixote while lying on my cot in my hooch in Baghdad; or the mylar-covered jackets of library books I read as a boy which were grimed (and germed) with a hundred handprints; or the chemically-comforting scent rising from new books.

Books are more than e-ink words scrolling across a screen, they are individual works of art.  They are like us: tall and skinny; short and over-fed; sleek and flashy; tattered and torn.  I often walk along my bookshelves, running my eyes over the broken-spined, the water-warped, the insect-nibbled.  Each one has something to say to me.

I like the idea of books calling to us; and, by extension, authors calling to readers.  If each of my books has something to say to me, then there are more than 6,000 voices coming from my shelves at this moment.  I know I'll never be able to answer all of them, so I somewhat serendipitously let them find me.

By coincidence, at nearly the same moment bookseller Michelle Filgate was putting a copy of Tinkers in Lisa Peet's hands at BEA on Wednesday, my wife was putting one into mine.  Yesterday was my birthday, but my wife couldn't wait to give me this book (if for no other reason than to bring an end to my insistence that we stop at every @$#&$!! bookstore in Montana to see if it was in stock).  I was at a day-long business meeting in Missoula Wednesday and when we met for lunch, she put a plastic shopping bag in my hand, delivering the gift with a knowing smile.  There, sandwiched between two pairs of jeans from Old Navy, was Tinkers.  While I appreciated the jeans, I have a feeling Tinkers will give me hours of deeper and richer pleasures.

I reached in the bag and drew it out.  Lisa Peet is right when she says that it's "a lovely little smooth-covered paperback, light as a bird."  As I held the book in my hand, it felt like it wanted to take flight.

Want more serendipity?  I just now opened Tinkers to a random page to see if I could find a choice passage to quote for this blog post.  These are the first words my eyes fell on (page 44):
This is a book.  It is a book I found in a box.  I found the box in the attic.  The box was in the attic, under the eaves.  The attic was hot and still.  The air was stale with dust.  The dust was from old pictures and books.  The dust in the air was made up of the book I found.  I breathed the book before I saw it; tasted the book before I read it.
I'd like to tell you that I thumbed through the pages until I found this most-perfect passage.  But the truth is, the book knew what it wanted.  It called to me and I answered.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, David -- what a lovely post. The book is full of little serendipities like that. Happy birthday!