AMONG SOME EXPATS and long-term travelers, bouncing around amid our many rechargables is the E-reader. Many of us are Kindled, Nooked and iPadded out, enjoying authors we miss, books we can’t easily get. I recently listened to Graham Greene’s The Quiet American on mine after the lights went out in Pikin Slee, Suriname, and read Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia as I sweated through every garment I was wearing waiting for the ferry in Port of Spain, Trinidad. For books, magazines, newspapers, and PDFs you’d otherwise have to carry around or not be able to get, they’re stellar, and I admit to no longer even begrudging my Kindle the fact that I had to buy it a separate case, so great is my E-reader love.
But I’ll never give up on real books. I love to hold them, flip through them. I have a somewhat photographic memory, and can remember where on a page something was written, left or right side, top, middle or bottom, and what the white space looked like on the page. Using this method, I can often flip through the last 200 pages find it in a few minutes. On an ebook I’m sunk, my method is useless, though I can bookmark something if I think I’ll want to go back. Eidetic memory aside, there’s a number of things you can’t do with an ebook. Here’s a few examples:1. Make a mini secret safe and hide it on your bookshelf. You know, to hide your, um, decoder ring. Or whatever. Even your (yes, really) iPod. This trick, of hollowing out a book’s pages and sticking it back on your bookshelf is a surprisingly complicated maneuver, requiring precision, patience, and a really sharp X-acto knife. And it absolutely requires a real, paper book.
2. Show off your wildly erudite and obscure reading taste on the subway. I will admit to craning my neck on more than one occasion to see if someone’s reading something I should have read, or would like to read. A kinship in geekery, similar literature tastes, sympathy for people you don’t know, all of it gone with an ebook. With an ebook, the words going into your brain are private, you read completely alone.
3. Press flowers and autumn leaves. When I was a kid, we’d pick up a couple of the first pinkish-yellow autumn leaves and press them between waxed paper in the biggest book we had, a Random House dictionary, with a wheat cover and black finger tabs, XY and Z all together on one. If we forgot about the leaves, there they’d be, the next time you went to look up a word, colophon, for example, which is the insignia at the beginning of the book, which you also won’t see on your ebook.
4. Throw it across the room when you’re pissed off at the ending. It’s a great feeling to know that you could smash your book down onto the floor, the literary equivalent of slamming the phone down, or pushing your cell phone talk button extra hard. Just as the person you’re hanging up on can’t tell how irritated you are, the author has no idea how much you hated their ending. But you wouldn’t try it with an ebook. Unless it’s got some fancy super extra protective case I’ve never heard of, in which case, it would just bounce, unsatisfyingly.
5. You can’t warm up your room with the colorful spines of books you’ve read. Or will read. Or want to hand to guests just because you know they’ll love them. This is perhaps the worst loss of all to me, the not being able to see just how pretty books are, not being able to share in the sense of moving something from your hand into someone else’s, not synching in some virtual, click-a-box way.
6. And speaking of moving, you could never make a stop-action film as pretty as this one, not with all the downloaded books in the world.