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Buying Books

I took a walk up Broadway yesterday and stopped in at “Book Culture,” an independent bookstore, one of three in the Columbia University neighborhood. The official Columbia University Bookstore is now a Barnes & Noble. I guess they struck a deal. But that’s another story. My story today is about three-dimensional books, buying them, holding them, and reading them, and how that experience is different from buying and reading books on an e-reader. Please note that I’ve eliminated the word “holding."

I know I’ve written about this on my blog before but, as time has passed and I am now nearly four years into owning my handy Kindle, the feeling of sensory deprivation, particularly when I am reading fiction, has intensified. That said, when I am reading a biography of an artist, which I do at least once a year, I feel the same way—deprived. I don’t have a tablet—maybe, in fairness, that would make a difference—so I can’t experience color plates. But it’s more than that.

I remember what it was like to be immersed in a book, not in reading, but the book itself, when I was a teen and my mother had to wrench me out of story reverie to come into dinner and I put the book down on the table carefully bookmarked and that object, that world, awaited my return, constant and predictable, partially because it was an object. Who needed dinner? I had been devouring the pages of that book and was nourished enough.

My mother’s father was a traveling salesman and every time he returned home to Vienna, he brought my mother a book. She built a library which she had to leave behind when she fled to Paris and then to America. Every time she moved after that, her books where unpacked before her clothes or her cutlery. Even when her sight dimmed, I could never persuade her to try an e-reader. She held a book and flipped the pages as I read to her.

That is a visceral connection. E-readers are flat and, in more ways than one, the words they store are elusive. We can still lose ourselves, sink into the story, but it somehow feels different on an e-reader, for a while anyway, until the story takes over.

So, every couple of months, I treat myself to a three-dimensional book at an independent bookstore. And I walk away relieved and satisfied to have made such a purchase. And this "relief" and "satisfaction" are sensory, not cerebral, because I haven't read the book as yet. I am, simply, possessing it physically. The book has heft, weight, and gravitas. I can feel it and know that it is mine.

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