Books as Fingerprints
It used to be that hardcopy book people would get this insane fire in their eyes when someone would ask them about e-readers or e-books or the future of publishing. It’s that “I like the weight of them” look, the “it’s the way they smell” look, the “you can pry my hard copy books out of my cold dead hands” look. In just a few short years it seems that’s kind of calmed down a little bit. I know I have. I used to be adamant that I’d never own an e-reader, but now—especially that I do so much reading of books in digital manuscript form—I can see the appeal. And I’ll probably even get one, too.
But I’ll also never stop buying physical books.
I like to physically own the books that have changed or influenced me in some way. I like to be able to see them, touch them, smell them. I like to run my finger along the spines of the books in my book case, feeling the different textures. I love them like little parts of my own self. I get distressed when other people talk about getting rid of books or downsizing their collections because I simply cannot imagine cutting out little parts of myself to throw away.
When I look at my bookshelves I see a vast and varied fingerprint—these books are what made me who I am today. No one else has this exact collection. It’s unique. And each of these books means something important. I hid in their pages as a shy kid. I imagined myself writing their words as an ambitious teenager. I learn from every chapter and sentence now, as an author. Books I’ll never read again because my tastes have changed, but that I loved when I was little. Books by friends who are going through the same journey I am now. Books missing covers and with the bindings falling apart because they spent so much time rattling around in my backpack. Books that are water and smoke-damaged, like THE GIVER, one the few books to survive my house fire as a kid.
When I walk into someone else’s home, my eyes are immediately drawn to their bookshelves. You can learn so much about a person by what they read—or what they choose to display about what they read. When I look at my own shelves it’s like looking in a mirror of the mind. I can see all these tiny pieces that are a part of me now. I can see myself made up not of atoms and molecules and DNA and neurons and electrical impulses, but of words. Words that have come from me, and words that have come from a thousand people all around the world all sitting down to write.
And I just can’t get that from looking at a screen, no matter how convenient it is.