Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Horror Of Paper Books

This is a post I've kept putting off. Things happen.

Then Wayne MacPhail tweeted this photo he took inside a bookstore:

It gave me a feeling of absolute horror -- and I knew the time had come to actually do this post.

There I was several months ago in a bookstore. One of the few still remaining in Manhattan that offers overstock at incredibly-reduced prices.

And I found a book I would have liked to have.

But I couldn't bring myself to buy it.

I kept having flashbacks to all the times I've had to get boxes, put the books in boxes, carry the damned boxes, move the damn boxes, unpack the damn boxes, and again arrange the damn hundreds and hundreds of pounds of printed paper books.

That book would have been another pound to lug around. Another frikkin object hanging like an albatross around my neck, limiting my mobility, weighing me down, reminding me that it will remain when I'm gone.

Let me say again: I really wanted the book.

But I physically could not buy it.

I've developed a bizarre allergy to printed books -- of the kind that are bought and owned and have to be moved around and that are always looked at and that are also a reminder of one's mortality.

Library books I don't have that problem with.

I can temporarily lug them home, even have a pile, read them, and then poof! back to the library they go.

But I want to own books.

I feel a guilt at not giving writers their rightful payment for reading.

Plus, with things being the way they are -- and have been -- I can no longer count on any public library having a copy of anything on its shelves. I once had to go to the Northern part of Manhattan just to read a short story by Barry N. Malzberg because only the City University had a back issue of the pulp magazine it was printed in!

This is another reason why I am an eBook militant.

I've never been a paper fetishist. My first collection of books were mass-market paperbacks. I never liked the size and weight of trade paperbacks and hardcovers. But I eventually amassed a collection of those too. I couldn't help it: Publishing had changed and there was no longer a guarantee of anything in hardcover or trade paper moving down to cheap paperback!

But the book as an object I came to see for what it is: A cage for the words within it.

It's the words -- it's always been the words -- that interested me. Never the packagaing, never the jail the words were locked-up in.

I can't be the only one out there who feels a sense of material liberation with eBooks.

Recently, a writer I've written about in this blog left a Comment offering to ship me a whole big bunch of books I'd blogged about. I never published that Comment because I couldn't explain why I couldn't accept more printed books. Even free ones. Even free ones from a writer whose work I admire!

So, this post has been something I've needed to do, in reply to that writer.

And to also explain why I have come to absolutely hate printed books.

Yes: But they're better weapons as eBooks!


colin said...

This is so beautifully true. I feel the same and have similar horrors of facing books at work and thinking about how much I would love to have them without having to worry about storing or moving them. Unfortunately most of them are only available in crippled DRMed formats that are equally unpleasant to store and/or move, so I don't buy those either.

Mike Cane said...

Some DRM can be removed now.