Why I love books you can hold


Sign in used bookstore window.

Sign in used bookstore window.

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.


4 responses to “Why I love books you can hold

  1. Since I’m going to be in Berlin in a little over a month, I bought Goodbye To Berlin….on Kindle. I totally understand where you’re coming from but I love my Kindle because I can travel with so many books in one little device. Also, I can enlarge the font for my aging eyes! The only problem is it sooo easy to order new ones that I have enough books to last for the next MANY years! By the way, my favorite book this summer was All the Light We Cannot See! I loved it!

  2. Ginny, you capture my thoughts exactly and beautifully. Even if I don’t have as much time to read these days as I’d like, I love sitting in my office and taking a moment to just look at my books on the shelves and remember.
    I also love that our bookshelves carry books that belonged individually to my husband and I before we were married (I think his books took up one whole shelf of our 3 bookcases :)) and the books we’ve bought since we’ve been married. They are a beautiful picture of who we are as a family.
    A real book tells more than just the printed story, as you’ve written about before, there are often inscriptions, little notes, favorite passages underlined. I love browsing through the books I inherited from my grandparents in which I’ve found thoughtful inscriptions, pressed flowers, love notes and bookmarks they collected from their travels all over the world. I hope to leave the same legacy to my own offspring, I can’t think of a better way for them to know me than through my books.

  3. Linda, I can definitely see the advantage of being able to make the text larger on a Kindle … especially as I am on the other side of 40 now and realize my vision ain’t what it used to be. I hope you like Goodbye to Berlin! (and Berlin itself — such a fascinating city!)

    Viki, thanks for your kind words. I also love finding things in books years later — it’s like a time capsule. And I agree; if you want to get to know me, study my bookshelves! 🙂

  4. Loved your elusion to “tabernacles housing parts of our deepest selves.” I feel that, too. For me, as a reader predominantly of non-fiction, I am also moved by the fact that good books are also repositories of mankind’s accumulated knowledge and wisdom. Like you, I can recall the circumstances surrounding the purchase of most every book I own.