Column: A Classic from Classical Anna

(Lesismore’s note: As part of an introduction to our new contributors, here’s an early column from Anna Williams written on November 29, 2007 in the Daily Cardinal. Check back on Thursday for the first installment of her “Classical Anna” feature.)

(Author’s note: This is one of my favorite columns because it captures both my mental and physical connection with books. It highlights the sensual experience of reading a book, which is often overlooked. There are a few things I would change about the writing (particularly the sentence structure), but it shows off my voice. I hear the Kindle is doing well lately and that makes me sad.

“No, no, no, no!” That was me as I read an article from the latest issue of Newsweek entitled “Books Aren’t Dead (They’re Just Going Digital).” In this horror-inducing article, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos promotes his new electronic doo-hickey “The Kindle” as the savior of reading. Apparently, the Kindle is a gadget that holds over two hundred books and displays the pages on a screen.

Now, one might suppose that being the literature lover that I am, I would be in support of any new device that promotes and spreads reading. After all, Bezos says the underlying idea of the Kindle “is that you should be able to get any book – not just any book in print, but any book that’s ever been in print – on the Kindle, in less than a minute.”

But no. Despite all its advantages and possible benefits for reading, I do not support the Kindle. In fact, it makes me want to vomit. I love books, and by that I mean not just the words that when strung together form ideas, convey emotions and create a story, but also the physical book itself – feeling the soft pages of a book beneath one’s fingertips, dog-earing the pages, bending the binding. For me and many other readers, reading is not only a mental and emotional experience, but a physical, sensual one as well, and if books become mainly electronic, an essential part of the reading experience will truly be lost.

For instance, one of the best parts of reading is the smell of the book. In fact, I even consider myself a connoisseur of book smells: my sense of smell is so refined that I can detect a difference, no matter how small, between every book I’ve ever read. Even more than that, these scents are tied to my memory – all I have to do is flip through the pages of a novel, breath in the scent, and I am instantly taken back to the time when I first read it. Imagine me and other book-scent experts pressing our noses against a Kindle! All that would accomplish is smudging the screen.

Furthermore, if this Kindle creates the revolution in reading that Bezos predicts, we will lose the human mark and history that the physical book records. And readers love this history – why else would so many people collect used and first editions? I have many books my grandparents once owned, yellowed with age, their margins scribbled with notes. Sometimes I even find old newspaper clippings tucked between the pages. I just don’t think a future kid will appreciate it in the same way if his grandfather passes a Kindle along to him. (Grandpa, this is just a regular Kindle. I already have the Kindle 2.0!)

The idea of a world where people sit curled by the fire reading from an electronic screen or read to their children at bedtime from a Kindle sends a chill down my spine, as it should for any true book lover. So, here’s my plea to all readers out there: don’t buy the Kindle! Never ever! Instead, I suggest we all celebrate the launch of this little gadget by going to a local bookstore, buying a real book or two, flipping them open, and deeply inhaling the pages.

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