All the (book) news that’s fit to print

Or whatever you call the rearranging of electrons on hard drives.

About a week ago I was at the thrift store, when I saw something a little chilling. Out front, next to a pile of forlorn $5 TVs was a bin of ten cent books. By bin I mean recycling bin, long and gray and dirty, with the books piled high with no thought or arrangement. Maybe to somebody this was a treasure hunt, provided you didn’t mind standing out in hot muggy weather. For me, it was something to glance at briefly, then retreat to the safety of the air conditioning within.

I appreciate moments like this one, little reminders to take a step back and reassess my feelings about books. The last physical book I bought was less than a few weeks ago and it was, predictably, a fractal book (Even now that the book is done I seem to be gathering materials for volume 2). But the last fiction book I purchased was probably six months ago. The last one I can remember anyway was one of the Scalzi books, and truth be known they are cheap enough as eBooks that I’ll probably go that route anyway.

Five years ago, or maybe even less, a bin full of 10 cent books would have been a treasure, something I would have dug through every inch (and with the dirt there may have been some actual digging). I’d come out with my stack of 10 books and happily hand over my dollar, knowing that if even one of the books was any good it’d be worth it.

It’s certainly not about the money. If anything I’m spending more on books than I ever was. And as much as I work with machines I don’t really trust them to be my permanent archive. But well, shocking as it may seem, most books I read I will only read once, and will probably never look at again.

This has always been true for me, if I really think about it. I can probably count all the books I’ve re-read on my fingers and toes, whereas the books I’ve read for the first time might not be accurately counted by the hairs on my body. Reading a book is a time consuming, and somewhat exhausting experience, and I want to read as many as I can while I’m still on this earth. I’m not saying I don’t have favorites, but few seem worth coming back to, even if I as a person have changed since my last reading. Maybe that says more about my reading, but it is what it is.

But nonetheless I used to love being surrounded by books, of feeling the weight of them (I’m not a book sniffer but I do love the look and feel). Now it’s all just “media” a delivery mechanism without importance one way or another. I feel like I’ve lost something, even as I’m reading more than I ever did before.

Maybe I need to take some time and read a real (and by real I mean physical) book again, one for pleasure and not research. And maybe in six months I’ll come to the same conclusion again. Gotta love cyclical thinking.

What’s the last physical book you ever purchased? How about read?


Filed under Books + Publishing

8 responses to “All the (book) news that’s fit to print

  1. The last physical book I read I actually picked up from Barnes and Noble a couple of days ago on my road trip. It’s called “Graceling” by Kristin Cashore, and it’s a phenomenal work of fantasy.

    I have a Kindle Paper White, but I was reminded by this book that there’s something different about holding a novel with physical pages. The experience feels more fulfilling.

    Maybe it’s because I stare at a screen all day at work, though my Paper White hardly feels like a screen. Whatever it is, I find I still prefer physical books over the digital alternative.

    • Haven’t tried the paperwhite, still using the Touch and the Simple Touch. My wife swears by the Fire, though I can’t read of an LCD, though that’s probably because I stare at one all day. Definitely feeling how many pages you’ve read is more satisfying than a percent count, or the more infuriating predictions of how long my touch thinks it will take me to finish a book or a chapter. But truth be known my Kindle is always with me, and is more than 95% of what I actually read from now.

  2. I have a friend who is determined to get and keep a book club going, and by “book” she means physical books. My practice these days is to read free ebooks on my Kindle and review them all. But my friend recommended “Jackaroo” by Cynthia Voigt, and brought me a copy from the library.
    I may have to visit my local library again … about a decade ago, I read every science fiction, fantasy and spiritual book from A-Z in our local library, plus some from interlibrary loan (like missing books from series). I’m sure there are a lot of new ones out now, though.

    • Haven’t read that one but looks interesting. Never had much luck with book clubs myself, though occasionally I did the “I will if you will” book club on Monkey See (NPR). For the fractal book I checked out about every reference the library had on the subject, then promptly bought them all. My collection is probably twice to three times the size of the library’s now.

  3. I imagine two men in the Library of Alexandria sitting together and lamenting over the inevitable decline of scrolls and scroll cases in favor of these new-fangled codices.

    • You’re not half wrong, Paul. The thing is, I don’t think I will ever be comfortable with a world like the one described in “The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster, where all knowledge and entertainment can be distilled down to a single panel, and everything else is barren. Being surrounded by the object is still oddly comforting.

      • Maybe we would be the two men lamenting the loss of the book. I still hunt for used books, my bookshelves overflow, my wife shakes her head. I have never read an e-book yet. That might make me a Luddite, but I’m with you. There’s something about walking into a dusty library.

      • You wouldn’t be alone fellas. I would be there right with you. My son got us a kindle for Christmas and while I will admit to a certain level of convenience, there is simply no way an ebook can replace a book. And when you mention walking into a dusty library, or old book store for that matter, my senses all keen up. Besides, if the power ever goes out like it does in my book Truths Blood, ebooks will just fade away.

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