It's like saying goodbye to an illicit lover. You knew going in that it couldn't last forever, knew you'd have exactly so much time together, and no more. You try to draw it out, postpone the inevitable, but sooner or later, you need that climax more than anything, and then it's all over. Yeah, reading a great book is like that.
For most of us, reading a book is a sensual experience. When I read, I want the full monty — to touch the paper, smell the ink, see the shape of each word as it enters my brain, hear the rustle of pages, in all ways savor the strangeness and exotica of the world I'm holding in my hands. Is it any wonder I freak out whenever anyone suggests that Kindle and its devil spawn will be the future of reading?
I get it that the paper-free society of the future will be ecologically correct, a boon for the trees and the rain forests. I'm even willing to entertain the argument that any technological gadget that gets written matter into the hands of at-risk (of not reading) youth is probably a good thing, although I can't understand why a plastic hand-held device is superior in that respect; a book already is a hand-held device. Of course, if anyone wants to read my book via Kindle, braille, Morse-code, or an old View-Master, I couldn't be more thrilled. But as a reader, all I ask is the right to one simple, tactile pleasure that doesn't have to be recharged, connected, or booted up for me to enjoy.
Sure, they probably used to say the same sort of thing about Guttenberg and the printing press, back in the day: how can you claim to have savored the total reading experience in all its privilege and majesty if some monk didn't go blind transcribing every precious one-of-a-kind page for your pleasure? And I know the technoids charge that we old-school bookists are making a fetish out of an inanimate object with no intrinsic value of its own beyond the story it conveys. But it's not that I idolize the sacred idea of the book; it's the thing itself I treasure, a comforting presence, like an old friend.
Paper breathes, ink bleeds, a book bends and folds and whispers to the hand in a way a piece of plastic never can. I just finished reading a wonderful book, whose cover I still occasionally touch with fondness, through whose pages I still occasionally rifle, while preparing to track down the sequel. It's over between us, yet it's a great comfort to me to keep this tangible relic of all we shared so close at hand. Parting could never be such sweet sorrow from a hunk of cold plastic.