FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

'To kindle or not to kindle' or Things Fall Apart and sometimes that's just what we need

A few weeks ago I was reading the renowned Things Fall Apart on my metro trip home.  As I stepped off at L’Enfant Plaza to wait for the Green Line to U Street, a young African-American youth tapped my shoulder and asked how I liked the book.  He added that it was one of his favorite books, that he loved ‘the language of it.’
I always appreciate anyone with my shared love of language (and of literature in general) and as the youth trotted off, my thoughts meandered over to the eternal question:

Whether to sell out or not to sell out to kindle or not to kindle… 

To kindle or not to kindle; that is the question
Whether tis nobler with a heavy book to suffer
The weathered and ripped pages of outrageous fortune
Or to go digital against a sea of wasted trees

All superfluous melodramatics aside, books have always been a very personal thing for me.  Before I could read my parents spent hours on the sofa reading to me.  I still remember the trilling, speeding, beating of my heart when the concept of reading first ‘clicked’ for me.  It was one of those Dick and Jane books and suddenly I was READ-ING!  Dick was run-ning and I knew it because I READ IT MY-SELF!  I remember flip-ripping through those pages, run-ning to my mom to show her that I could READ! (I later went through a VERY short-lived phase where I would read EVERY billboard that we drove by, much to my parent’s chagrin)

Growing up I didn’t get to play video games and my brothers and I would get so foot-stomping-pee-our-pants-excited for Saturday trips to the Base library where we’d get to check out as many books as they would let us—I had a fondness for ones having to do with bears and dogs and the boys that befriended them, and oddly enough I can still recall a book about a muffin-baking dragon.

I tell you all this because here’s THE THING:

No one stops you on the metro, or on the bus or on the street to talk to you about how much they like the book that you are reading on your kindle.  Namely because the logistics for this to happen are just too difficult; someone would have to get all Michelle-Pfeiffer-UP-CLOSE-AND-PERSONAL on you to see what you were reading.  And nobody wants or needs that on the metro.  People like to keep their ‘bubble’ inflated while on the metro.

But books, books are a magical thing.  They are at once a most solitary, contemplative pursuit and at the same time a most common bonding, cohesive element.  They are both a just-me-myself-and-I-rainy-day companion and the excuse for book club wives everywhere to slam a case of Franzia on a Thursday night.

And they are courage-givers and door-openers.

 I can boldly and comfortably speak to someone with whom I have nothing in common with—except for the book in their hands.  And in the buttoned-up-eyes-diverted-locked-up-in-my-personal-metro-space-and-throw-away-the-key existence in which most of us live every day

(except of course for the ubiquitous “OMG-Beth-this-guy-was-so-rude-to-me-on-the-escalator-today–when-alls-I-was-doing-was-minding-my-own-bizwax-standing-on-the-left-side-Julie-from-Ohio”who never learned about ‘inside voices’ or little miss “hey-hey-I-don't-like-your-girlfriend-this-song-was-so-cool-5-years-ago-that-I-think-everyone-in-the-metro-car-should-also-listen-to-it-through-my-headphones-girl-power!”)

the common ground of a physical book is just the fresh air we need in our lives (either that or better a/c in the metro).


  1. Great post! I share your enthusiasm for books. The first 7 years of my life were spent in a bedroom with 3 walls of floor-to-ceiling shelves, filled with the family library.

    I've been torn on the e-reader, too. My MiL gave me her old Kindle. I like it from a utilitarian standpoint because I can download a raft of classics for free from gutenberg.org and not pay a cent. It's good for taking a lot of material on the road without the weight consideration. I'll buy e-books that I expect to read once for info and toss.

    Books are social gear, too, as you point out. I still like the physical characteristics of books. Like the patch on your flight jacket or a logo t-shirt, they can be conversation starters. Like our "likes" on Facebook, they say something about us. I like going into antequarian book shops, taking a trip back in time, wondering who thumbed those pages decades or centuries ago.

    I guess the e-books are the work clothes or the sweats: I'll talk when or if I'm ready. Paper books: "Hi! My name is...."

  2. I think about buying vs. taking books out of the library a lot. I switched to the library when it basically became like amazon, I go online, request a book and get it delivered to the library a block away from my house. But I do miss 'owning' it and putting it on my bookshelves. I bought a house last year and it has awesome built in bookshelves in the living room, but because I mainly use the library much of the shelf space isn't used.

    I think maybe I'll go back to buying now that I have little kids who can reuse them in a few years. I wonder if a kindle will even last long enough for me to pass the books on. I also wonder if I'd buy enough kindles for all my kids to use at once. Books seem to solve this problem and also don't set them up for a disaster of spilling stuff on or breaking a kindle.

    The other aspect is that my dad and mom and sometimes brother and sister cycle through books we buy each other for birthdays and Christmas. not sure if you could do that with a kindle. i have the app for my itouch, but have not bothered to download any books. anyway, that is my 2 cents and thanks for a great post.
    USNA '93