A few weeks ago my wife said the unthinkable, “I’m kinda thinking about a Kindle.” When I recovered from my shock, I asked her the only important question, “Why?” A brief conversation ensued and subsequently ended with the phrase, “Well Brian, you resisted the iphone.”
It’s true, I did. I had long held the belief that phones and ipods should be strictly segregated. A partnership between the two would prove good for neither. However, after a brief test drive on a friends, I was hooked. Now, I have a fantasy of moving to Utah and starring in my own Sister Wives show with my first wife Jaime and my second wife iphone.
My track record on sticking to these convictions is rather poor. Here is a brief list of some of the things I’ve rejected only to later find myself desiring, using, or purchasing.
-any apple products beginning in i
When it comes to ebook readers I absolutely refuse to adapt, despite my past failings I am absolute in my resolve. I would rather be caught hanging from my closet naked with a belt around my neck then with an Amazon Kindle in my hands. This goes for any kind of ebook reader except the ipad which I mentioned above and is pretty cool.
Before you label me as a technophobe, understand that I believe eReaders have their place in our society. Those who blaze through mass market paperbacks, frequent travelers, technophiles, but mainly, people who don’t care about books. I’m not talking about people who don’t like to read, but rather people who don’t care about physical books.
I love reading, but as much as I love reading I love the book itself. I love holding the book and feeling its weight in my hands. I love cover art, the paper the words are printed on, the font and layout of the pages. I love placing them alphabetically on my bookshelf and admiring at how nice they look stacked next to each other. I love the wear and tear they receive as they’re hauled from place to place reading them when I have the time. Books are beautiful, books are a form of art.
When done right every element of a book speaks to the message coded within the text on the pages. Like anything, there is bad art and good art, for every thoughtfully written, designed, and executed book, you’ll find one like Lauren Conrad’s L.A. Candy or Glen Beck’s The Overton Window. Even books that many literature elitists consider trash, can still deliver on an artful level. The Twilight series comes to mind, before they were altered to become just another promotional tool for a film franchise they were tastefully executed works of art despite their written words.
This can work in reverse. For decades public domain classics had been designed and printed in a way that said, “You’ll hate the words sandwiched in-between these covers.” In the last few years there has been a push to correct this injustice, and you can now find more artful and detailed versions of your favorite classics. The words and meanings haven’t changed but the beauty has.
There is a publisher who understands the importance of the entire presentation from the words to the cover to the title page. McSweeny’s was founded by author Dave Eggers in 1998 and shares a similar viewpoint; that physical books are works of art. When ever I pick a McSweeny’s book off the shelf I am struck by how nothing is wasted. So much thought goes into every element of its construction you almost wonder what a blank filler page at the end says about the story. Examining the copyright page can often lead to a fascinating read by itself. If you don’t know what I mean go to your local bookstore and check out the copyright page of Dave Egger’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, or Heads on and we shoot, the making of where the wild things are, which opens three different ways. The cover of McSweeny’s # 35 is hyper-colored and when you hold the book to read it, what was an image of black rain puddles magically becomes filled with golden Koi.
I’ve long felt that books were the most under appreciated art form. There should be galleries with books on walls, where patrons can walk about admiring their beauty, picking them up and flipping through their delicately crafted pages. Before I could finish writing this phrase I realized there is such a place. We call these galleries bookstores.
Not all bookstores are created equal. Barnes and Nobel and the soon to be defunct Borders (see our broken Borders) equate to those art galleries you find in shopping malls selling hotel art. Then you have infamous independents; Powell’s in Portland Elliot Bay in Seattle. These are big important galleries like the Louvre or the Met. Finally you have the less known but equally important stores that pop up in ever city, the little independents. These are small galleries in a converted church or door factory. Here they are willing to take a risk and challenge our notions of what is art without the “bottom line” or “sales goal” constantly in mind.
My favorite of these bold local independents is Skylight Books in Los Angeles. Located on Vermont in the Los Feliz neighborhood, Skylight is the closest I’ve seen to a real book art gallery. The store is small (though in the last few years they expanded their art books to the store next door) and the books are displayed not simply by what will sell best or what is new. They are selected for their quality and esthetic.
Should you visit (and you should) you’ll notice their window display; here books are displayed by visual theme, for a time they all had red covers, then blue, then they all featured shoes. It was an enticing art instillation of books, their content ignored but they were all joined by their covers. In a strange way this connected their material. On the shelves you will find the books categorized thoughtfully and with plenty of employee recommendations. This includes an entire section devoted to McSweeny’s publishing, need I say more.
I love the smell of the pages, and the hunt of a a book you’ve been lusting over for years. None of this can be replicated by the Kindle. It can present the words on the screen with customizable font sizes, it highlights only the words which in a way is admirable. It’s almost like finding a human brain on the sidewalk and then extracting all the information and presenting it on a computer screen, the words are all there but the body is missing, and we are left asking, What did it look like? What did it feel like?
Personally the feel of the gloss on the cover as I re-read Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha is as much an experience as reading his exquisitely poetic words. As my fingers inadvertently brush across a crease in the bottom front right corner I will remember the time I dropped the book in 9th grade World Civ class bumping into Mr. Grimes. The name Susan Ghormley scrawled with impeccable handwriting of blue ink will always remind me of my mother handing me the book and telling me that I’ll love it.
Try and beat that Kindle!