I’ve been on a book buying binge lately: summer at the airports, September at the Outer Banks, culminating at the Cornwall Manor Fall Festival. Books have been arriving in the mail as well, and every time I open the Kindle app, I’m surprised to see the new digital books that are so easy to buy, spurred on by the numerous books-of-the-day emails I get. So, this week, after making yet another resolution to stop buying books but determined to finish up Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series, I put in my request for Death of Kings to the library and managed to pick up two more books before heading to the check out.
And this is at a time when I seem to be reading less and less. My days are filled with farm chores and project work, and it’s only when I tumble into bed that I have a few minutes to pick up a book. I am jealous of Joe Queenan, author of One for the Books, who reads books two hours every day. His book, which I picked up this week after reading the first few pages some time ago (that little detail will be important in a moment), is filled with stories of books, places where books live, and people who love books. I love his acerbic style but also his ability to paint loving portraits of important people in his life.
Queenan has no time for electronic books as they get in the way of his annotation habit, and he doesn’t like library books for the same reason although he seems to spend a lot of time in libraries as they feed his love of browsing. Perhaps part of the reason I am really enjoying this book is that we have so much in common when it comes to books. I am never happier then when I am browsing in a book store or library, able to pick up a book, flip the pages, read a few lines, imagine myself buried with it in my chair, lost to the world beyond. Bookstores, according to Queenan, open us to the realm of chance that doesn’t happen when we head to Amazon to purchase a specific book. People who do that are missing something:
by refusing to patronize bookstores and libraries, by refusing to expose themselves to the music of chance, they have purged all the authentic, nonelectronic magic and mystery from their lives. They have rolled over and surrendered to the machines. This may be convenient, but that’s all it is. All technology is corporate (p. 27).
Queenan understands something that non-book people and those who continually declare the end of the book do not. Books are more than just a device for conveying words but objects that hold a certain power and, according to Queenan, are perfect the way they are:
Books are sublime, but books are also visceral. They are physically appealing, emotionally evocative objects that constitute a perfect delivery system. Electronic books…are useless for people who are engaged in an intense, lifelong love affiar with books. Books that we can touch; books that we can smell; books that we can depend on (p. 27).
Also, like Queenan, I’ve begun reading several books at a time. Not the 30 or 40 that he might be in the midst of, but at current count, about eight or so, including Queenan’s books itself. I’m not sure how it happened. Partially because I started No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s tome about the Roosevelts during World War II. I find it fascinating but it’s a huge commitment, and I don’t want to give up other books until I finish it. I had actually read a few pages of Queenan’s book when I first brought it home, even posted a few sticky notes, but then moved on. Unlike Queenan, once I’ve left a book for more than a week or so, I don’t just pick up where I left off. My memory is not as robust as his, and I like the experience of reading a book from beginning to end in one more or less continuous chunk of time. So, as I was running out of the house to catch the ferry, I grabbed it, choosing partially by size as I wanted something I could tuck in my bag.
The only problem with Queenan’s book, of which I am not even half way done, is that I am feeling a bit inadequate, both in the number of books I read but also the titles. He has whole pages with titles of books, many of which I have never encountered. And lots of classics that I have never read despite my claim to being a lifelong English major. Spurred on my Queenan, I rose before dawn this morning and settled in with Kearns Goodwin for an hour before heading out for chores. It was a delight, a reminder of my childhood when I would set the alarm for 4:30 AM in order to get in reading time before school where I was forced to disconnect, not from my digital world like today’s student, but from my analog one. I may return to that practice and start my day with books.