Although I am an avid reader, I have avoided the incursion of this new digital technology into my life. I LOVE books… and if it is a special favourite, I read interactively, reading journal at my side, Post it notes handy, my trusty bookmark/ruler/magnifying sheet and mechanical pencil in hand.
I suppose I started this “bad habit” in university as a student of French and German literature. Guesses at meanings based on context clues were later confirmed by checking my translation dictionaries and written in between the lines of text. Grammatical constructions to ask about were bracketed and starred in the margin. My collection of Les Petits Classiques Larousse and German novelle were a glorious mess, but they were my study treasures.
Then in my sophomore year, forced to buy second-hand textbooks, I found myself owning… Oh bliss!… a copy of Living Issues in Philosophy, by Harold Titus, that had been owned by someone whose name I immediately recognized. I worked at the circulation desk in Mills Memorial Library where I heard admiring whispers about his braininess. His textbook was so dog-eared and had been “scored” so badly that probably no one else would buy it. But I knew I had a treasure! Definitions in the margin, numbered summaries at the end of the chapter, cross referenced page numbers, right through to the last chapter. Where he had marked NB and RR (reread I think) I did as instructed. Unmarked pages and chapters I skipped. The same prof had given the course for twenty years, and if my secret mentor skipped something as unimportant, so would I. Too shy to identify myself to the former owner, I admired him from afar, and taught myself his study methods.
I embraced this “bibliabuse”… new word, I just made it up! The underlining and marginal gloss, question marks and asterisks, the puzzled or angry comments at the end of the paragraph, all these make a book and its comments my very own. If I want someone else to read a book I treasure, I have to buy a “clean copy”. That is why my book shelves have so many duplicates. The books I don’t care about, have not “scored”, are given away when I have finished them.
I also love beautiful books, old books, art books, atlases, specialty publications, hand-made journals, scrapbooks, and diaries. I never feel that I truly know someone until I have been invited to her home. Never mind the decor, the colour scheme, the fancy kitchen, how neat or how stylish… are there any books? Imagine my delight when I was visiting a friend for a guild executive meeting when I found a set of old Dorothy Sayers novels in her sewing room. Yes! a kindred spirit!
You just can’t have this kind of relationship with EBooks, regardless of their sophistication and convenience. Nor can you tell what other people are reading and strike up a conversation about it. No personal contact with either the book or the reader! How sad! Reading should be both a private and a shared experience.
At book group a few months ago we were looking up passages to prove our positions. Those who had read hard copies… i.e. real books… were able to find what we wanted very quickly, underlined or not. We had a sense of how far into the chapter to search, where on the page to look for the first line… it is hard to describe the physical and visual memory we use when leafing through a book. The EBook readers, even those who seemed to know their way around the devices and use the special features, were frustrated and all three said they were going to purchase BG books or use the library from now on.
Later during the same meeting I accidentally picked up someone else’s book off the coffee table. We were reading The Piano Man’s Daughter by Timothy Findley, and although I was looking for something quite unrelated, the book fell open to the melodramatic and erotic scene of the heroine’s seduction. Of course I recognized it immediately and began to read it aloud while my friend blustered and protested. Now, that is something that won’t happen with an EBook!
(Yes, you have seen me use that image before… it is Flaming June by Leighton, and I referred to it on March 6.)
Now I have bought my first EBook, and tomorrow I will tell you why!