Some books arrived in the mail today and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them. When I say that, I mean it quite literally: I ran my fingers over the covers, turned them over and studied the back, and flipped the pages briskly, enjoying the brief rush of paper-scented air in my face.
You just don’t get that from an ebook.
A few years back, I wrote an article about why I don’t have a Kindle. It remains one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, mostly because I feel so passionately about this subject. I don’t want to make any value judgments here; if you like e-reading and it works for you, that’s great. But the years since have not altered my own very deeply-rooted preference for books that you can hold, pages you can turn, covers you can feel. Reading is a full-soul experience for me; I want it to be a full-body one as well.
And as I get older, I respect the journey of a reading life all the more. The emotional associations with books have grown stronger for me over the years, not weaker. The volumes on my shelves are pieces of me, my history; in a great many cases, I can pick up a book and remember exactly where I was when I read it. I can tell you where I read those final chapters of Goodbye to Berlin (Berlin, as it happens), or where I fell in love with A Room of One’s Own (the backyard of my parents’ house), or where I made the acquaintance of Emily of New Moon (in the family car, in sixth grade, coming home from the mall). And in many cases, I can still remember why I loved the book enough to keep it, how it satisfied an inner restlessness or lit a fire of possibility or put words to something I was only vaguely aware I was feeling.
These books are made sacred through the reading, almost, as if they become more than texts but little tabernacles housing parts of our deepest selves. And the mere fact of picking them up and opening them again puts us in touch with the stops we’ve made along the way, all the various stages on the pilgrimage of our emotional lives. Books are the souvenirs of a thoughtful life, and I know this much: I will always want them around me.