Eating Books

Is there anything more delicious than sitting down with a book?

A few days ago I attended a talk about publishing and one of the hot topics was e-publishing and the technological possibilities for the future of the book.  Audience members wanted to know when academic texts in the humanities, particularly, would find acceptance among peers in digital form.

In many ways this approach to literature dissemination makes sense.  It’s ostensibly cheaper for publishers (once it takes flight), has the potential to reach a wider and even unlikely readership, and can even invite revision and reader interaction if that is its aim.  These are all very sweet sounding things.

On the other hand, when I see my neighbor on the bus reading texts from Kindle or some other electronic interface, I can’t help but to think — in my old-fashioned way — that she’s missing out on the loveliness of the book.

How lovely is the book?

Well, first there is the excitement of finding a book.  Finding a book is not as easy as locating an e-text.  For example, if I want a first edition Marie Corelli I will have to search to the ends of the earth to find it.  But how rewarding when I possess it!  It’s like finding your soul mate after years of dragging the oceans.   Then, when one is prompted to get up and physically locate a text, she merges — feels — the electricity that is so useful in connecting human experience to language (maybe I’m over-reaching.  But no).

Next, a book smells.  It has been handled by flesh — much flesh — and it evidences this.  How glorious!  What a connection to the human!  (Excuse my excitement, if you would.) I stick my nose to its broken binding and rejoice.

People write in books, they spill food and drink on them.  I love to read what others have said, to see what they have underlined.  The book becomes alive.  There are “alive” e-texts as well.  Shelly Jackson’s “My Body” comes to mind.   Then again, the permanence of the ink has a different feel than that of the typed word, for me.

E-texts are reliant upon electricity.  Books are reliant upon human electricity.  One may vanish.  The other, never!

I like the grime of literature.

I like to stick my face into pages.

I like to eat books.

Then, a book can eat me back.



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