The future of the word?

An interesting Weekly Standard review of the Sony Reader (insert drool noise here).

I'm waiting to see where Sony takes this. I'm hopeful that someday it will be a justifiable purchase, I'll be able to sack all of the paperbacks and garage/library sale finds that lack the sentimental value of those which were gifts or inscribed by the author.

D's family has the oft-endearing, oft-irritating habit of inscribing every. single. book. ever gifted from family member to family member. It would make sense if these were well-thought-out book purchases, or particularly prized volumes, but often, it's an Italian cookbook or the like, which, while very nice with pretty food pictures (nothing like appreciating food aesthetics), have no sentimental value and will probably not even get used/read, and were probably purchased for $.50 at the Goodwill. To me, it's taking a book which would otherwise not warrant the coddling of its thingitude and making it into a material guilt trip (i.e. - you must keep this book forever and ever or the ANGELS will WEEP for you). Thus, our closets spill over with book fodder, our bookshelves runneth over, stacks of books neither D. nor I have any earthly desire to read. But, you know, they're good to have. And I'm always asking myself, are they? Really?

I've always had the fantasy of living in a house with an ample library, a room devoted entirely to books, bookshelves to the ceiling, one of those rolly-ladders, where I could lull away the afternoon, skirting along my own personal stacks on my rolly-ladder, singing Disney songs. But that's a problem, because it's a fantasy based purely on the materiality of the book, not necessarily on its substance. I don't fantasize about actually sitting down and reading from my vast array of literature (though I do read, mind you) - the fantasy is about being in the presence thereof. It's a kind of Holy: the musty smell, the virtue of being bookish, of caring about books - makes one feel like a good steward. In college, I had the habit of picking up random books by obscure 18th/19th c. poets and novelists and buying them at the annual library booksales, just because I knew nobody else would find joy in them and someone, goddammit, had to find joy in these, for they were carefully wrought, filled with the work and love of writers long committed to dust. Who else would care for these orphans of fickle poesy, I prithee? I would think to myself, if I'm lucky enough to be published in book form one day, I would want similar mercy shown to my poor neglected tome. But, well - would I? Would I rather someone hug my book or read it? It sounds kind of crazy, but I'm not exactly sure.

Would we rather our talent be lauded mindlessly or critiqued soundly, for better or worse? This is an issue of self-esteem at heart. And I think all artists struggle with it to an extent - it's that certain something which makes workshops "interesting." If we've experienced enough workshops (read: ONE) we're more than amply familiar with the thin-skinned artist, the faux-thick-skinned artist, the deliberately hurtful critiquer, the sycophantic you-scratch-my-back-you-get-the-picture artist, the defensive poetaster. We're concerned that we've been them or are them.

I realize now this is rather tangential from the issue of the book - and yet, not really. Books, their materiality even more than their content, can serve as a good defense (physically and metaphorically) against self-doubt. True, I've felt awful dread gazing upon a stack of them, thinking a) will I ever get these read, or b) will I ever be this good, or c) will I ever have room for these, or any combination thereof. But I think those questions in and of themselves are a decent help, a materialization of what's at heart an existential crisis for the artist. It's much easier to grapple with the book than the ether.

In any case, I still want a Sony Reader.

Buy me one!


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