To Kindle or not to Kindle?

The Bookstore on Pozsonyi

The Bookstore on Pozsonyi

Pat and I are figuring out what we need to carry with us to support our itinerant lives as we prepare to set sail. Over the next months, I will be writing more about these dilemmas – three in particular: what, if anything, do we continue to store for the long term; how do we support our technology needs – including this blog (cell phones, laptops, cameras, etc); and what wardrobe do I construct to get the most value from the fewest pieces. Everything, every single item, must fit into one carry on and one checked bag a piece.

But there is a decision I am contemplating more than the others. Do I Kindle? Or do I continue to read paper books? It is a hard choice, at least for me. I bought a used copy of The Collected Stories by Colette. The first time I opened it, a scent of cigarette smoke puffed out. Normally, I hate that smell. But when I am reading this book, the Frenchness of it feels so perfect. I imagine the previous owner lost in a story as their cigarette turned to ash. Is it the same person who absentmindedly set down their espresso, leaving a faded stain in the middle of a page?

I used to own a Kindle which I lost following an apparent subliminal act to part ways in a Vienna airport bathroom. When I got home, my first words to Pat were, “I lost my Kindle. Thank God.” Yet this device, which was no bigger than a Harlequin Romance paperback, allowed me to carry a life time of reading. And when I read in French, a daunting task on the best of days, it is pure magic that I can touch a word and view the translation.

So why did I delight in losing it?

If I remove the sensory pleasures I derive from a book, the Kindle wins hands down as the best option. Or does it?

When we lived in Colorado, driving down the hill to the Tattered Cover in Lower Downtown – LoDo – was one of my guiltiest pleasures. There, in a multi-storied, renovated warehouse, I would gather up a stack of books then sit blissfully for hours; picking them up one by one, rubbing my hand over the cover, reading the opening pages and the author’s bio. I spent hours deciding which one would come home with me, creating a shorter and shorter list until one emerged the victor.

In Budapest, we replaced a grandmother’s attic assortment of mismatched and broken apartment furniture with a few carefully selected pieces. Given we knew our time there was temporary, we only bought those things which filled a mandatory function. And we bought a bookcase. Over the next two years, Pat and I proceeded to fill it.

Some nights, I climb into bed with a stack of books and repeat the same process I employed at the Tattered Cover. Which book should I read next? If Pat is out of town, I stack them on his side of the bed and inevitably wake in the night as they crash to the floor. Every few months, I agonize over which books we must leave behind in Hungary. Then I fill a sack and take them to a local coffee shop – heartened by the hope they will find a loving owner who will occasionally sneak them into their bed.

This weekend, we stopped by my favorite bookstore in Greenwich Village; Three Lives & Company. I bought The Boys in the Boat at the suggestion of my son’s girlfriend, Annie. As we walked down the street, she and I discussed the virtues of electronic versus paper.

While intellectually I realize that the Kindle will win any unbiased comparison, emotionally, I am not convinced. Nothing replaces the perfect heft of a book in my hands. One whiff and I am in a coffee shop in Paris. The sun illuminates a stream of smoke wafting from the end of a cigarette. On the opposite end is a smear of red lipstick which reminds me of my grandmother.

But let’s put sensory deprivation aside. I think the real issue is I am not ready to live in a world where the independent bookstore (or really, any bookstore) fades into extinction. Where all the great works of the world are distilled into a series of electronic bits on a chip the size of my thumb. The paper choice is completely impractical. Yet, I am guessing, it will be my choice.
Here is a great read from Vanity Fair about the most venerable bookstore of all, Shakespeare and Company. If you are in Paris this summer, expect to find me there on any given rainy afternoon.

Categories: How To

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4 replies

  1. Your wardrobe for Paris can be 5 items in basic black. You will be fine.

  2. I think a Kindle can coexist with a preference for paper books. In my experience as an expat, I heavily resisted getting an e-reader, but finally accepted one as a gift after my parents listened to me complain for a year about the cost of English books overseas. I became quite attached to it, for certain situations. One was travel (carrying 1 Kindle vs. 5 paperbacks). The other was cost-effective fiction. For nonfiction and books I want to mark up, the Kindle isn’t practical. I flip back and forth too much, want to look at my highlights too much, etc. But it has its place, so much so that I actually replaced it when I broke my first (after 4 years). Disadvantage to me, besides all the atmospheric aspects you mention, is the simple fact that it’s an electronic device– you have to worry about it in your purse in bad weather, or at a sandy beach. You can’t wisely read it in the bath. It doesn’t “age well.” Plus, the tangly issues around loaning a Kindle book to a friend. So it can’t replace a paper book, experientially and in some ways practically… but I found it a useful addition.

    • Hey Meghan… I agree, in a perfect world, they co-exist nicely. We are just thinking of every single item we carry – given we are committed to very little luggage. But I have a feeling, the books and the kindle might make the cut.

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