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.
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!