Not soon after the holidays ended, my wife, Jane, and I ended up in possession of a hutch. The hutch belonged to her mother, who, in the midst of relocating to Arizona to retire, decided she didn't want to keep it.
We placed the hutch in our living room. I was excited by the fact that it had bookshelves. For the first time in many years, we would display books in the main part of the house, not just the guest room or bedroom. Some books actually came out of storage to find themselves on display.
The other night, I considered the collection of essentials while deciding what should be on the hutch. This includes a 1958 Riverside Edition of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," a Penguin classic copy of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and personalized and signed copies of books by E. Annie Proulx, Naomi Shihab Nye and Dave Eggers, among others.
And, as did this, I thought about Kindle.
It turns out that I might soon end up in a tiny minority of regular readers who does not have an e-reader such as a Kindle or a Nook. And I cannot find any desire in me to own one. I must admit to being an unbridled book enthusiast. That is, I love an actual book. Not data of a book stored on a handheld electronic device.
Now, I'm not a full-blooded Luddite. I have long owned an iPod and have become a regular at purchasing music as digital downloads. I am a frequenter of Facebook and I have no reason to oppose Twitter, Skype, movie streaming, apps or smartphones or anything like that.
But with books, I have a hang-up. I enjoy their tangibility. I covet the feel of a new cover. I love the smell of a new book. I love the smell of an old book. I love that I can tell the difference between an old and a new book just by its smell.
I appreciate seeing how thick or thin the book is and whether it's a hardback, trade paperback or good-old-fashioned dime store paperback. I'm also a fan of used books, where I can see how others might have marked the text or dog-eared the pages.
I savor the feeling of seeing a book displayed and recognizing it by its colors and fonts. Sometimes, just looking at it can take me back to the first time I read a favorite book or classic. Other times it just comforts me to know the words are in the room, and they do not need some kind of electric current to be read.
Maybe e-reader creators are on a path to mimicking print books in different ways. Maybe one day e-readers will smell like new books when the latest novel is downloaded. Maybe the e-reader will transform its outside to look like the cover of whatever book I'm reading. But, what would be the point when we could just have real books?
I have friends who have unabashedly adopted the e-reader and books in their digital form. I know they'd want me to point out the major benefits of Kindles and Nooks. They can carry a library's worth of books in a small device, and they can download something new anywhere they go. Not to mention, some have interactive illustrations. And so on.
A day might come where I have to move to e-book when all the things I want to read are not printed anymore -- and its likely I will soon find myself reviewing copies via e-reader for work. Still, I have identified five books I will never read in digital format for various reasons. They are:
1. "The Sibley Guide to Birds" by David Allen Sibley. Really, no amount of fancy digital wizardry is going to get me to peruse a digital version of this great book for identifying birds in my backyard. I don't care if they flap their wings or have rotating 3-D images. I find a kind of sacredness to this guidebook in its real form.
2. "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain. My favorite among American classics, "Huckleberry Finn" is a book I have celebrated. Because it lives in a place in my imagination, I don't even like the illustrated versions of this book. I just like the words. So, I don't want any fancy digital e-books with interactive graphics to corrupt the images in my brain.
3. "Desert Solitaire" by Edward Abbey. I currently have an edition of this that's the cheesy 1990s idea of what desert-themed graphics and fonts should look like. This is the version I first read. So, I find a comfort in a book that looks like the one I first found on the shelves. For me, it makes for a good example of how print editions of books can mark a place in time.
4. "The Griffin & Sabine Trilogy" by Nick Bantock. One of my favorite innovative book series is this one, where author/artist Nick Bantock creates postcards and notecards and then writes the correspondence of the characters Griffin and Sabine on them. The feeling of it being a found correspondence, and having to open the letters to read them, makes this book a tangible feast. I doubt it could be replicated on an e-version and deliver the same joy.
5. "A Sand County Almanac" by Aldo Leopold. This book that helped define the concept of a land ethic and helped set in motion the conservation movement is, to me, one of the more important nonfiction works of the 20th century. It deserves to be read in its physical form between two covers. Books that have shifted my perspective like this one are ones I want to hold in my hand.
The good news is that I own a print edition of each of these books. Their format will never go out of date because of a required upgrade or new software -- and their batteries will never need a recharge.