Sunday, January 22, 2012

Books Everywhere

Many of your friends with various versions of e-readers are enthusiastic about the variety and number of titles they have already downloaded—still have to work at being comfortable with that word—and are as likely to brag about the length of time necessary to perform such an operation as they once were relative to their successes with romantic interests.

In a gesture of housekeeping, you removed several “aps” or applications from your iPhone on the grounds that you have never used them or rarely used them.  You forbore to delete “aps” that allow you to download—that word again—books.  Out of curiosity, you checked to see how many downloaded books you have on your various appliances (which are not really all that various).  You were able to find a download of Jane Austen’s novel, Possessions, which you mean to reread for purposes beyond mere enjoyment, even though the purposes are on vacation from your memory at this moment.

On the other hand, there are now three books of the bound sort on your work table as you compose here, four if you’d care to include the Moleskine notebook you sometimes carry with you when you are not carrying the two smaller notebooks which you also sometimes carry with you, the “sometimes” in the equation being a matter of whim and mystery.  (Why are you motivated to take the red Moleskine on certain days and not on others?)

When you were faced with the necessity of moving from Hot Springs Road to this amusing-in-its-analog-to-Inner-City at Sola Street, you’d arbitrarily decided to take only a hundred books, a number that expanded immediately when you thought to cull your collection of short story collections.  That was a tad over a year ago.

It was once possible to move about here at Sola Street without tripping over piles of books or toppling stacks of them.  Such luxuries have vanished; each day causes you to acquire some new book or other, each for various reasons, not the least of which are the ARCs, the advance reading copies sent you by publishers in hopes of a review that will generate sales momentum.

Today, a Sunday, would seem to have provided some respite since there are no deliveries of mail, FedEx, or United Parcel, nevertheless there you were at Chaucer’s with the specific goal in mind of acquiring Gogol’s Dead Souls, which arrived in your mind as an excellent adjunct to your teaching of Joseph Heller’s iconic Catch-22.  It is true that you could have downloaded (no way are you going to get used to that word; it sounds—as ENK would say—gross) Dead Souls, more than likely at a lesser cost than you paid for the Penguin edition, but you’d have then had to store it in some sort of system that would in effect be your compromise between the Dewey Decimal System and the Library of Congress System, which you might have been able to do, but would you have been able to retrieve it with the ease of its downloading?  And would you be as likely to reread it in digital form, as you are likely to reread it in its print version?  You understand perfectly well what a generational thing this is.

One of your dearest friends, who has written well over thirty books, is not computer literate and although you have written well over thirty books on typewriters before writing yet others on computers, you are at least of junior high school level in your computer skills.  You have even edited books on computers, without ever having seen the paper manuscript (if in fact there ever was one).

In some ways, your approach to paper publishing reminds you of the aftermath of serious parties in which much is consumed and participants “fall asleep” on various sofas, beds, chairs, floors, and the like.  You see the convivial survivors on your clean-up rounds.  You see books, strewn about the relative smallness that is 409 East Sola Street in much the same way, set about the areas you tend to gravitate to in one reading mode or another, dog-eared, bookmarked, or somehow festooned with slips of paper, index cards, or Post-it Notes.

You understand perfectly well that you could experience the same results with e-books, allowing you space at 409 for such things as flowers, plants, small ceramics, and photographs, but again the matter of electronic filing and storage enters the picture joined at the hip with neatness.

Perhaps the issue is not even as much related to neatness as it is to rowdy parties, spontaneity, and mischief.  Perhaps writing, editing, teaching, and, in fact, reading, are better accomplished when they are indulged in a party-like atmosphere of conviviality, argument, the occasional harsh word and/or misunderstanding.

One of the books on your desk is Arthur Koestler’s The Case of the Midwife Toad, which came to you in a discussion with a biologist, lingering with the tantalizing awareness that your next book review is to be an oldie.  Even while you were having the discussion with the biologist, the opening lines of the review presented themselves to you.

The Koestler rests directly atop D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature, which you intend to use in your Spring quarter class at UCSB, along with the small volume not far removed in size from the red Moleskine, Harry Frankfurt’s remarkable On Bullshit, which you also thought to bring to the university in honor of your earnest belief that Professor Frankfurt’s work has even greater relevance at a university than in the sclerotic streets of the inner city.

What it comes down to, your own belief of the inevitability of the wider universe for electronic books notwithstanding, is the sense of the print book being more convivial, more likely to provoke responses and reactions beyond its text.

1 comment:

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