The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Pleasures of a Good Book

By Andrew Tibbetts

1. Portability. You don’t need any kind of a machine to interface with the data except your own head, so you can take these suckers anywhere. Even War and Peace can fit in a brief case or a knapsack. I have a pair of painter pants with pockets on the legs big enough for a paperback. If I put one in each leg I walk a little Frankenstein-y, but even bank lines or subway stops because opportunities to get back on the raft with Huck and Jim.

2. Interactiveness. These suckers are so easy to pause. You don’t have to go looking for the remote under the potato chip bag, or find that for some reason when you re-engage it’s gone right back to the beginning FBI warnings. Stop and start willy-nilly and it’ll be right where you left off. It will even pause while your mind wanders (although you may need to place a finger on the spot on the page if you don’t want to have to reread a sentence or two.) For longer pauses, an old receipt or gum wrapper will mark your spot and you can close the thing right up! I’m reading The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross currently and my book mark is the little paper case an earl grey tea bag came in. It’s purple and smells of bergamot.

3. Flexibility of Pacing. Unlike soap operas which can crawl or kinetic art movies which whiplash your brain, these suckers move at your pace. You can even modify your pace, rushing through when the action has grabbed you, or lingering when the language is baskworthy! (Shhh, it’s even possible to skim, if you need to. My colleague, V., skims fiction and never non-fiction, and I’m just the opposite.)

4. Hurlability. These suckers are hard to break. They hurl nicely and don’t really damage. I was once reading Underground to Canada by Barbara Smucker out loud to my kids and became enraged during a harrowing description of the treatment of slaves. I spontaneously hurled the book across the room smack into the bedroom wall to the shock of my 9-year old. After I stopped sobbing, we retrieved the book and it was fine. You cannot do this with DVDs or MP3players.

5. The Smell. Books smell of dust, finger-sweat and glue. You wouldn’t think that would be a good smell. But it is. It is. It is. It is.

6. Variety. There are more kinds of novels than anything else really. Big fat epics, hilarious comic romps, taut psychological thrillers, sci-fi mindbenders, lyrical literary treasures, swooning romances, you name it! They get as old as Genji Monogatari by Lady Murasaki Shikibu from the eleventh century right up to something published yesterday (Infected: A Novel by Scott Sigler). And never mind novels, there’s also collections of poetry, collections of short stories, and non-fiction books on any topic you can think up from aphids to zoophilia. They come in different colours, sizes, languages. Gosh. The mind boggles at the immensity of choice. Sometimes I find myself in a public library completely unable to think of a book. Paralyzed by possibility. I have taken to keeping a list.

7. Substantialness of Content. Unlike much of the stuff you find on the internet, books have been taken time over and tend to have some meat to them. It’s a little too easy to blog, isn’t it? Everybody blogs now. If I have a chat with somebody I rush home to read their blog about it. Because of the filtering aspect of the time it takes to write and publish a book, the ephemeral often falls by the wayside. But, hey, if you want ephemeral, there’s a biography of the pop star of the moment right out front in the nearest bookstore.

8. Inevitability of Focus. Unlike the TV or the Stereo, you can’t have a book on in the background. If you just plop one on the coffee table while you do your nails it won’t do a thing for you. You create the experience with your concentration. The book needs you to participate. If your mind wanders, the story stops. Unlike a movie that keeps going even when you spill a glass of red wine on your pants and need to scoot around swearing for a minute. Sure, sometimes, your mind can do a couple of things at once, but not well. So you find yourself having read a page but not taken anything in. Unlike other time-bound art experiences, the words sit there calmly on the page waiting for you to notice, click in, and go back up to the last line you remember.

9. Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

10. The books of the future. For example, coming soon to a bookstore near you!


Blogger Gail said...

Andrew, I love this. Books: the batteries never run down, you can read them in glaring sunlight, and they are so easy to rewind!

Wed Apr 02, 11:14:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Thomas White said...

Great!! I always smell books. And that Testosterone book- well let's just say I read it a lot.

Wed Apr 02, 11:37:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger RAC said...

I work in a college library, so I'm surrounded by a blanket, nay, a guilded quilt of books, with time to read on my own deserted island, like the Duke of Milan, the illustrious Prospero.

Wed Apr 02, 12:27:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger bevjackson said...

This was well said and most entertaining!! I love books too, and you touched brilliantly on just exactly why!

Wed Apr 02, 03:43:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Fran Friel said...

Hurlability? My favorite feature. Unlike a bad movie at the theater during which I'd be arrested for hurling my beverage at the screen, hurling a foul book can be done in the privacy of my own home. I can drown them in the tub even with little consequence, other than the guilt that follows from the sad rippling of drying pages.

Great blog, Andrew!


Wed Apr 02, 03:43:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OH yes! I once hurled a copy of "House of the Scorpion" as we drove a section of freeway that had a freakin' stoplight on it. The light turned yellow and then red before our gigantic motorhome could come to a stop. All the while, I was screaming to everyone in the coach to brace themselves because there was a ton of cross traffic and I realized that if a single vehicle proceeded when their light turned green, we would be in a horrible collision. Every muscle in my body was clenched and the second we got through the intersection, I hurled the book at the floor. It was a great release! But I remember feeling guilty as I bent down to examine the body of the little book. I was greatly relieved to find that it hadn't suffered more than a few curled pages.

Wed Apr 02, 04:22:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Kat said...

Affordability. They are free from the library or easily "borrowed" from unsuspecting friends.


Quotability. An argument, negotiation, date, wedding or funeral is not complete until someone has quoted someone else aloud.

Wed Apr 02, 08:27:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Well done, my literate fun. Only you would read Underground to Canada to your kids -- what a great dad. I love "the inevitability of focus." So true that you have to participate. I hope we'll always have books.

Wed Apr 02, 09:47:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said... may be my literate fun, too, but I meant literate friend. Sigh.

Wed Apr 02, 09:48:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

I guess I can forgive you for preferring print over electronic, since you accidentally bought my first novel without realizing you'd bought an e-book!

By the way, did you ever read it? I got it in print, too, yanno!

Wed Apr 02, 10:10:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Ellen Parker said...

Portability! You can take them to bed. And they have pages. You can turn pages in bed.

Wed Apr 02, 10:48:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Alicia said...


Thu Apr 03, 12:07:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Ramesh said...

Well said, Andrew.
Yesterday afternoon I was cleaning out some boxes in my room and came across a few books that belonged to my late father. I stopped cleaning, went to a corner away from all the rubbish, and went through those books...some were on the art of the novel, a few others on the art of relaxation, and two books of know, those books reminded me some things about my father, and it was like I wasn't holding just books but something else, something that connected to his spirit in a sublime way.

Thu Apr 03, 12:57:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Me again. I missed the link to my book listing, but Colin found it. Aren't you sweet! Thanks.

Thu Apr 03, 02:05:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Excellent and true, Andrew! Ramesh, isn't it always like that? You can't re-arrange your bookshelves, or even give the books a simple dusting without finding yourself coming out of a trance-like state hours later.

Thu Apr 03, 08:03:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Lydia Theys said...

Great points all, Andrew. BUT, you forgot an essential item and that is the sound books make. What more lovely sound is there than the satisfying clomp of a big thick harbdback when you close it? Or the more substantial clump of giving it a wee toss to the table? And the special quiet-crinkle of Brodart covers on your library books is a delight. I have to admit paperbacks are often silent, but I forgive them for that.

Fri Apr 04, 09:53:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Denis Taillefer said...

Good points! I will add sharability, and not in the material sense, but that feeling you have (even before you’ve read that great novel, as you massage it with anticipation) of promises of a peek into something original, or evocative, or mesmerizing, or thought provoking. (Or all of the above!) A new world of ideas and characters that have already enriched those who’ve read it, and one that you too will soon tap into.

Fri Apr 04, 10:35:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Avital said...

I love everything about books, good books. I used to read while dressing, eating, drinking, on the street, on the bus, by the table, in bed, and sometimes I felt guilty for reading when others were actually doing something. Then one day I found out it was "my field of interest," "a hobby," "a source of general knowledge," and I finally became a writer.

Fri Apr 04, 03:09:00 pm GMT-4  

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