The recent creepy incident involving Amazon remotely removing purchased content from the Kindle has me back on the fence regarding purchasing one. There are contradictory forces at work here.
First, as a geek, I’m unable to sleep when I do not own the latest cool. The first Kindle’s industrial design was intriguing, but the second version nailed it. The second generation is a pleasure to hold and to read and I’m a fan of anything that gives me a reason to read more.
But here’s the contradiction:
My office bookshelf. Slightly in disarray, but a massive visual reminder of what I love about books… you hold them.
When a Kindle-maniac is running down their list of compelling reasons to purchase, they inevitably invoke the “that’s what your parents said about CDs” argument. Remember that? A generation of music lovers decrying the death of vinyl because the CD’s size didn’t do justice to the cover art?
The cover is part of music.
It’s not about the song; it’s about the album as a WHOLE.
Maybe. Ok, yes, I love listening to the entire Dark Side of the Moon, and yeah, that prism cover is bitchin’, but the main difference between a book and an album or a CD is you hold a book when you read it. If you want something from a book, you need to touch it. Part of the reason I read Catcher in the Rye once a year has to do with the ratty, dusty-smelling version I own. Part of the character of a book is how it is read.
But a technological evolution away from books, for me, presents an even larger social problem.
More People Less
The name is Rands. It’s not my real name; it’s a leftover from the mid-90s when everyone was still freaked out about typing their real name into the computer, let alone the Internet.
A quick scan of my Twitter stream reveals that apparently real names have replaced nicknames as a means of identification, but this doesn’t change the fact that never in our history have we known more people less.
We spend the day swimming in the 10% of the information that others have deliberately chosen to share with us and while it is overwhelming in volume, it’s only so because there are so many people… who are actually sharing very little.
There is a time and a place that I want to know more, and no amount of Facebook updates is going to placate this curiosity. Perhaps this is a function of my generation, but there are two defining moments for me in the getting-to-know-you phase of a relationship:
#1 Can you talk shit? I’m not talking bland sarcasm, I’m talking about a full court comedy offensive that demonstrates not only that you are aware of your surroundings, but you have a gift for improvisation and the courage to use it.
#2 Where’s your bookshelf? It’s this awkward moment whenever I first walk into your home. Where is it? Everyone has one. It might not be huge. It might be hidden in a closet, but in decades of meeting new people, I’ve never failed in finding one and when I do I consume it.
See, I don’t really trust you until we talk a little shit and then I see your bookshelf.
The Book Stalking Process
This is my process and this is not a process of judgment, but one of assessment, and it proceeds in three phases:
Phase 1: Where are they?
- Where does you bookshelf live in your home? Is it in an obvious place or are you hiding it? Why are you hiding your books?
- Is the bookshelf built around the room or vice versa?
- Do you have a room specifically for books? Hot.
- Can I see your bookshelf after you’ve sat me down with a glass of wine? Even better.
- Did you spend money on your bookshelf or is it an IKEA atrocity? Wait, you built that? Awesome.
Phase 2: How are they arranged?
- Have you committed to a pure bookshelf? What’s the breakdown between books and non-books? This isn’t where I store books; it’s where I demonstrate that I love books.
- Is the arrangement chaotic or calm? Is this is a shrine or a utility?
- Vertical or horizontal stacking? What’s the rule? Is there a rule?
- Is it full? I read. A lot.
- Does your book arrangement tell a story? Can I find that story quickly or do I need you to tell it? Do you offer it?
- Do you use bookends? Are they functional or ornate? What’s their story?
Phase 3: And what do you read?
- Are these the books I expect based on what I know about you?
- Do these books represent your entire life or just right now?
- Can I tell, at a glance, the three most important books?
- Which books are you… hiding?
- How do you react when you see me stalking your bookshelf? What’s the first story you’re going to tell?
- Is there a glaringly obvious book that does not belong? When do I get to ask you about it?
What I’m learning during this stalking is my deal. The intricacies of my assessment aren’t the point. You are decidedly and blissfully not me, which is why I’m standing, wine glass in hand, totally and completely lost in your bookshelf. Dr. Seuss and Calvin and Hobbes… interspersed on single shelf. That… is fucking brilliant.
Seven Precious Books
As you grow up, the guarantee is that the world will change, often faster than you are comfortable with. There are two approaches to handling change: either you embrace the change because the change has something to teach you, or you can dig your heels in and say, “Nope, not changing. What worked for me then works for me now and will work for me later.”
It’s my job to observe and embrace change, but I’ve always wondered when I’d grow stubborn enough to hold onto something the next generation had begun to view as an antique.
This is what you need to know. I have three shelves. There’s one in the closet that you’ll never see. It’s full of trashy science fiction, gifts I’ve never read, and an embarrassingly large collection of Far Side books. The second shelf is the one you see above, a place of honor. These are the books that I read once a year, these are the books that I’ll have for the rest of my life. And then there’s the small shelf next to the bed. Seven precious books. A few I’m reading right now and a few… I just need nearby.
See, I can’t imagine a world without books.