I’m not a luddite… really. I don’t miss vinyl records or 8-tracks or cassettes or CD’s and I won’t miss my iPod when someone (and it will happen) comes up with a better musical mousetrap.
I’m a proud, card-carrying, iPhone4 call-dropping , Facebook-posting, FourSquare check-in(g), Google-mapping, techno-geek. And I’m generally not nostalgic when the new displaces the old – that’s progress. Innovation begets innovation – and new economies, art forms and modes of expression are the progeny. And I’m all for it.
Except, I have a confession to make… I like books. No, not the kind you scroll through on your Kindle, iPad or Nook. I’m an addict of the hard-bound, tree-murdering, page-yellowing, paper-cutting, mildewing variety that you lug through airports in already-overstuffed bags and clumsily balance on your thigh as you negotiate your buy-on-board snack with your spork.
I have nothing against ebooks. Nor their smug fans. I don’t mind when Kindle readers sneer at me with mocking superiority as they toggle through their entire eLibraries, effortlessly choosing amongst a thousand volumes, from Angelou to Zola, to satisfy their attention-deficited reading disorder. While I’m traversing the country bench-pressing McCullough for the 6 months it takes me to journey from Truman’s barren youth to his dropping the a-bomb.
Truth be told, these eLiterati wouldn’t be nearly as smug if their finely-honed thumbs and forefingers couldn’t guiltily toggle from this week’s People Magazine to the factory-pre-loaded Two Noble Kinsmen by Shakespeare, to avoid the over-the-shoulder judgment of a nearby snooper. At least if I’m reading Kathy Griffin’s Official Book Club Selection, the world knows it. I own it. Good trash is good trash.
No, my distaste for eBooks extends beyond the personality disorders of their acolytes, and goes to my own personality disorders, forged in that dysfunctional maelstrom we call childhood.
In our house, the walls had two functions, neither, it seems, related to personal privacy nor sound insulation. Walls in the Lipsey household were used for displaying my mother’s paintings. Or for housing books.
As far as I can tell, Earl Klep, our family’s carpenter, must have sent all his children through college on his profits from the solid oak, stained, built-in’s he constructed in nearly every room. That 100-year-old house is still standing, and I’m sure its because those bookshelves are holding it up.
I guess my parents’ thinking was that a blank wall was a shameful thing to waste. And they didn’t waste an inch. Every wall was organized. “Like” was stacked with “like” in an homage to the Dewey Decimal System. The Boer War, Civil War and Reconstruction coexisted peacefully in a section of the den. Monet, Manet and Modigliani shared esthetic proximity in the living room. And Potok, Rand and Roth’s tableaus of angst-ridden mid-twentieth century life competed for attention in the family room.
My parents were also aware that children of different ages constantly roamed about the place, so reading matter also had a vertical orientation. As you grew taller, new topics of discovery previously beyond your grasp found their way to your reach – literally and figuratively. The floor level bookshelves in the family room brimmed with kid-friendly fare. Monopoly, Risk and Sorry board games were stacked for easy access next to the LiteBrite’s, Rock’em Sock’em Robots and Legos. Just above for easy access by tiny digits sat the Worldbook Encyclopedia, the entire original edition of Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz series, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Seuss, Cleary, and on and on.
The greater the height and distance from the kid-friendly epicenter of our family room, signaled increasingly remote and mysterious subject matter. Upstairs, in the master bedroom for instance, on the top shelves along the ceiling along the far wall were the sections that came to hold the most intrigue as my precocious young mind grew more curious. DH Lawrence, Erica Jong, and Jackie Collins sat inconspicuously, unnoticed by the untrained eye. Kinsey, Masters and Johnson and, of course, Reuben’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask* intermingled in a disorderly moshpit of adult content genres. (* By the way, I was afraid to ask. But I wasn’t afraid to scale Earl Klep’s solidly crafted bookshelves (a.k.a. kid-ladders) to find out for myself! Parental control technology is so much more sophisticated these days!)
Meandering through our home from room to room was much like taking an intellectual tour of our family. Each space had a mood and feel that radiated as much from the books lining its walls as from the furnishings. Every shelf told you something about us. Well-worn spines, torn covers and dog-eared pages signified concentrated study, while stiff covers and crisp pages revealed superficial inquiry or boredom. The number of volumes on a shelf dedicated to a particular subject matter reflected depth of interest. Whole sections devoted to glass blowing, jewelry design, figure drawing and color theory, for instance, tracked directly to my mother’s evolution as an artist.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve carried my parents’ book obsession to their level of extreme. I don’t display every book I read. I don’t finish every book I start. I don’t feel guilty about giving books away as my limited shelf-space bows to its limits. (Ikea could learn a thing or two about bookshelf construction from Earl Kelp.) But books do line the walls of our house (where they also compete for space with my mother’s cherished paintings), sectioned off by subject matter from room to room.
I love seeing them in the periphery, reminding me of different periods of my life. Of interests I picked up along the way. I love pulling a book off the shelf that I bought five, ten or twenty years ago and reliving the excitement I felt discovering it for the first time. I love it when house guests wander along the shelves, perusing titles, finding something of interest to digest during their stay. I love the occasional silent look of surprise or judgment when someone discovers the unexpected. “That book is out of character.” “I didn’t know he was into that.” “Who on Earth would buy that trash?”
I love that a book can simultaneously be part of the inner architecture of my mind and the outer architecture of my environment. Which brings us back to the original topic of ebooks. Why don’t I like them? Because you can’t build your home around a Kindle.