My fingers were meant for pages in books. They’re not meant to smudge screens of e-readers to flip pages. The creases on these tips were made to smudge ink. I haven’t made the transition to digital books, even though the school I teach at has already seen the writing on the wall. Of course it is the English department that has struggled with the replacement of novels with digital copies. It doesn’t really feel the same. I love annotating – getting a dog-eared copy of a paperback novel dirty, scribbled notes in the margin, a creased spine when I flip over on one side and just want to hold the book with one hand – those experiences don’t translate well to an e-reader. Or even the feel of a brand new book – with crisp edges and the smell of print all over it. How I know – that on really hot days, between the sweat and condensation of drinks filled with chilled liquid, these new pages will soak up as much of my life as I will of these imaginary worlds within words.
I will probably offend other Analog purists with the fact that I have digitized other aspects of my life … I traded in my tapes for discs and now hard drives of files that I stream endlessly. I love the simplicity and versatility of cameras built into phones (although give me an older camera and I’ll still know how to pop film in and roll it back – or shake a Polaroid into being). And my fingers now feel just as comfortable resting on a keyboard as they do holding a pen (but in my defense, my handwriting style is an acquired taste). The one thing that will probably never translate well enough is the book. I cried when Borders died. I didn’t understand how this large bookstore chain that was a favorite place of mine to peruse on lazy weekends, picking up a title and flipping through its pages before deciding if spending an afternoon reading about alien vampire Grail knights would be worthwhile, could close done. The smaller, independent local book stores went as well. Even the secondhand bookstores that also peddled in comic books (the classics and the smut) were struggling. I mean how can you digitize comic books of all things. Believe me – I even tried those versions where they have the panels “come alive” on screen and it’s read aloud like an audiobook … Just didn’t do it for me. I mean comic books – it needs to be read with some loud music playing with a beverage (soda/beer) in hand. And then after breaking down the few pages that make up that month’s issue you have to set aside a discussion with your friends to pore over every panel and scrap of dialogue – like a “Talking Dead” episode. I mean digitized comics – you’ll never get the experience I had debating my brother over whether or not we should keep our comics safely sealed in archival polypropylene bags to preserve their condition. I thought they’re books – and books are meant to be read, while he valued their collectible value. Digitized comics don’t feel like books at all – and have no value. Feels like a lose-lose situation to me.
It’s summer now. My fingers are ready to leave these keys, leave behind the swiping of songs, and are ready to pick up a book. A real book – because in the summer – reading a book feels nice. The weight of a book seems substantial, the way it absorbs your heat makes the book seem alive, and of course when you’re done physical books can be great headrests or makeshift fans. And if you need to … it’s a handy thing to throw (literally not legally). Can’t say the same of a digital copy.