Sunday, July 26, 2009

The tactile nature of books

Books call to me. Some mutter; others scream. Some sit on my bookshelf and mock me for not having read them yet. Others lie to me. They make promises they have no intention of keeping.

When that right one arrives, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s often as much about how a book feels in my hands as it is the story inside.

I've experienced that twice in the past month or so. I decided to write about it now because of this article in today’s Chicago Tribune. It turns out even newspapers talk to me.

The first example came when I finally succumbed to the throat-clearing I heard on my bookshelf last month. A loaned copy of “The Time-Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger sat there, desperately vying for my attention on a pile of unread books that have less-insistent voices.

The book is beaten up. The binding is broken and the cover bent. It is beautiful. It landed in our house when our good friend, Ruth, visited in February and left it behind for us to read. Kristin devoured it first.

When I finally picked it up it was like being reunited with an old friend. I don’t know how else to explain it – it just felt right. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. The story pulled me in and wouldn’t let go. I was sad when I finished because Henry and Clare were no longer in my life; their story is over.

My other example came when I was still reading Time-Traveler's and I once again came face to face with “Demons in the Spring,” the anti-Kindle collection of short stories by Chicago writer Joe Meno. I first heard about the book while at the annual AWP writer’s conference last winter when I read an interview with Meno in a literary magazine.

I later saw Meno at a panel discussion during the Printer’s Row Book Fair (sorry Trib, I’m still not going to call it by the name you decided to change it to). While signing books afterward, Meno thanked a guy for buying Demons because it helped benefit 826 Chicago, a non-profit writing and tutoring center founded by Dave Eggers.

The next time came when Kristin and I were at Book Cellar three weeks ago, and I spotted Demons on a shelf. I picked it up for the first time and knew right away I would be taking it home. But I fought the feeling because I didn’t think we could afford a $25 book that day.

So I returned it and walked around waiting for other books to jump out. Several others tried to seduce me with their wily ways. But it was Demons I kept returning to, so I finally checked with Kristin about buying it.

For the rest of that day I had a hard time putting it down. The red canvas cover and bright white pages felt so comfortable in my hands I kept the book on my lap during our trip home.

This is what Meno was hoping for. He created a book – which also includes illustrations from a variety of artists – that can’t be duplicated in an e-book format such as Kindle. You have to hold it to fully experience it. It's what a book should be.

I’m nearly finished reading the 20 stories within, and I still find myself just holding it in my hands, rubbing the cover with my fingers. The book knows it already has my attention, so it no longer needs to call out. It sits quietly in my hands providing all the company it needs to.

But I know there is another book somewhere waiting patiently for me to walk past. And when the moment is right, the book will clear its throat or yell or politely ask me for a moment of my time.

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