This Writer's Life

Sticks and Stones: Memoirs About the Writing Life



I own more books than I know what to do with. I trip over them, kicking them across the floor; I find them in the dust under the furniture (“so that’s where Lord of the Flies went!”)

I had a Kindle for a while, thinking it would help reduce my piles of books, but I hated reading on its rigid little screen. I ended up buying a hard copy of every e-book I’d already bought, and then I tossed the stupid thing to the back of my closet, where it chirps every so often, Furby-like, begging to be charged up.

E-readers, in an incomprehensible effort to “improve” reading through technology, deliver “content.” But books aren’t merely content. A book is a physical object. It wears a jacket and has a spine. As books age, their pages brown and crumble. They’re even edible, at least to the booklouse.

The improved technologies of printing and shipping created a reading public: the newly literate, working classes of 19th-century Europe and America. It’s ironic that we now have a technology that aims to do away with the printed book altogether, creating a whole different class of readers who experience words on a screen instead of a page.

There are advantages to e-readers. Now we can hide embarrassing titles inside a bland little machine. No one need know that you, dear reader, are lost in the tale of a deviant named Grey. No need to hide that spicy bodice-ripper between the pages of Anna Karenina. However, if you actually are reading Anna Karenina on an e-reader, no one will glance over and ask you if you think the scene where Vronsky’s horse dies is a metaphor for what happens to Anna (that’s pretty unlikely in any event, but with the printed book, at least there’s a chance).

In the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of Poets & Writers, New York Times book critic Dwight Garner states, “I write all over my books, I really mark the shit out of them…so give me the dead-tree edition.” For a person who receives, and I quote, “twenty-five to thirty books a day,” that’s a commitment to the printed-on-paper word. My book-a-week habit pales in comparison.

I will let my stacks grow. I will try to find room for them wherever I can. I’ll give away the ones I can part with, and keep the rest. I will try to keep them against the walls of my house and not in the middle of high-traffic areas. The Kindle stays in the closet.


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