fahrenheit 451

Kindling, apres un feu.

It’s interesting that the dominant ebook reader is called a Kindle. “To kindle” is to build or fuel (as in a fire), to cause to glow or ignite, to catch fire or burst into flame. I get the intellectual reasoning there – yes, the Kindle will kindle your thoughts/mind, etc.

But what do you use to build that fire you’re about to kindle? Kindling.

What’s generally used as kindling? What’s readily available and burns quickly? Paper? Do I hear paper?

Perhaps it’s not what they’re implying (or maybe I’m naive) but you could make the connection. Burning books to kindle a fire. Destroying the printed word to ignite a new form. I don’t think I’m totally off here.

Now, I’m not anti-Kindle per se. I see it as another delivery method for the written word, like an audiobook. It’s not for me, but I can see how it would be useful or preferred by other people. My brother has a Kindle – for him, it makes sense. He does high level network admin, and computer books are HUGE. He travels a lot. He likes to read the NY Times while he’s on the road. The Kindle allows him to travel with a library of computer and reference books and also lets him read the Times, all on one device. If that’s going to keep him reading, I’m all for it! My other brother can’t focus on a page of printed text long enough to read. Whatever books he’s enjoyed, he’s enjoyed thanks to audiobooks. I have a friend who prefers audiobooks because she’s got some vision issues and reading can become painful after a while – besides, she can listen on her iPod while she goes running. That’s fine.

I’m a book person. I love the details – the typeface chosen for the interior, the stock, the cover, the feel of the book in my hand. It’s an experience, not straight absorption of information. I love reading books first and foremost, but when I go to a bookstore and see that there are, say, five different editions of Jane Eyre to choose from, I’m not going to select the cheapest one (some might argue, “the words are the same and it won’t last more than a few years anyway”) but, rather, the one that is most aesthetically pleasing and/or which appeals to my tactile senses. I have multiple copies of the same book (Alice in Wonderland, Pride and Prejudice) because the art of the book is unique. I love both stories, and having multiple copies represented on my bookshelves is a way to show that love to others. Decor doesn’t have to be an empty aesthetic-only aspect of our living space.

My friend looped me in on a heated debate she’s been having with her sister about the merits of print books versus digital books. Her sister wrote, “I am not interested in the book as a thing to decorate with or impress anyone with, but as a thing that excites me with images, ideas, information.”

She is jumping to a conclusion, and it’s not a logical one – that having books around/in your living space/where people can see them means you’re trying to impress people and that is the reason you have physical printed books. Yes, I will admit that I look at my bookshelves and I am impressed with what they hold. I am impressed with my lifetime (so far) of experiences and knowledge captured in these books. When people come into my living space and see those books, yes – it’s nice to see that they’re impressed, but that’s NOT the reason I read.

Having walls filled with books is a by-product of my lifelong curiosity and love of books. Not the other way around.

books and more books 2

A portion of my bookshelves. Yes, I'm proud of them.

It sounds like she’s saying that appreciating a book as a thing means you can’t appreciate it as a source of ideas and information. You can do both. You should do both. The one should follow the other. She’s judging people who do enjoy the book as an object because that, in her logic, indicates some kind of posing or posturing to impress others. That’s simply incorrect. There are celebrities who purchase books by the foot or by color to decorate their libraries and living rooms with books they’ve never read and will never read. No one is going to walk up to their bookshelves and learn anything about that person.

Being a book person is like being an artist. It’s a form of self-expression. A bookshelf is a collage of influence, knowledge, personal history and inspiration. Even if no one else ever sees my bookshelves, I feel immense pride when I look at them and realize that these are all words I’ve read, stories I’ve experienced, things I’ve learned. The books on my shelves mark parts of my life and friends. The books I read in college, with my marginalia and scraps of notepaper still stuck inside, are a time capsule. There are books I’ve received from friends, inscribed to me, with a memory – priceless. Somehow, a friend gifting me a copy of an e-book for a Kindle doesn’t have the same currency. There are books I’ve gotten from friends that aren’t inscribed, but I remember them. I know why they were given and what they mean – I wouldn’t have the same emotional attachment to a Kindle file. Yes, it about the information inside the book, but I feel like the soul of a book disappears when it’s reduced to words on a screen, however valuable those words are.

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