The Weight of Whispers: Frankly, I Prefer Electronic

The headline on Salon caught my eye: I hate books.

“Sometimes I kind of hate books, too,” I admitted to myself, quietly, inside my head.

Salon‘s Anna North is talking about the physical reality of books; the heavy, dusty, space-eaters that you’re committed to carting around with you every time you move. Here at the Bushwick blog, we recently launched a new feature–the Bookshelf Report–designed to celebrate that physicality, the soldiered quadrilaterals that take up space in our homes. But as North points out, readers (this one included) are increasingly buying books in electronic format, where words weigh nothing more than they do when they come out of your mouth (Amazon even calls their Kindle delivery system Whispernet).

photo of ipad next to kindleNorth writes, ” With a few exceptions, the books I’ve kept around are more use to me as objects than as narratives. They’ve made the cut because they make me feel a certain way, they reassure me, they keep me in touch with the past. I do reread some of them…but many are more for looking at than reading — or even simply for the reassuring feeling of knowing that they’re there.

I’ve shed books like crazy each time I’ve moved. The books that have lasted are significant, just like North describes in her Salon article. Signed editions like Garden State by Rick Moody, who had to double-check that I didn’t want to return the book before he signed it (I’m really sorry this book is so bad he wrote inside), a special edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s travel essays on Florida given to me by my grandmother, an old book of poetry that my high school crush stole from the school library for my birthday (there’s an inscription in that one, too, which reads, “Happy 18th Birthday. Well, at least I think you’re 18,” and he spelled my name wrong), and others.

Mostly what I read lately, I read on a screen. I’m familiar with the arguments people make for paper—the smell, the feel, the personalization—but electronic books are so easy. Last night, on a whim, I whispernetted Chocolate for Breakfast, a reissue of a 1950’s teen melodrama, full of sex, drugs, and boarding school that I read about on Emma Straub’s tumblr. I didn’t have to abashedly ask the über hip clerk at the store and feel his/her judgment (I’m shy! I wilt under the least bit of consideration!); instead, I followed a link. Wham bam, thank you ma’am. It’s lazy and irresponsible in terms of supporting independent bookstores, but I’m also really bad about leaving the house without any of the things I wanted to bring with me (books) and the magical cloud—the magic whisperer—makes that easier. Life is hard enough.

North closes her article, “So now my library is static, stuck in the past; if you want to know what I’m reading now, I’d have to show you my iPad.

Ditto for me.


What about you, Seattle? What special books do you keep on your shelves,

in all their heavy, dusty glory?

Comment below or tweet #booksonmyshelf