I’ve moved eight times across four countries in the last seven years and counting. What this constant relocation has taught me – avoid accumulating stuff. Furniture, appliances, electronics, clothes – stick to the essentials. No recreational shopping. In the end, stuff = expensive shipping fees + arms strained by trying to maneuver three sixty pound bags through airport terminals.
However, there remains one type of stuff that I can’t seem to get enough of: Books.
The bane of every peripatetic book lover is the blasted weight of those rectangles of dead trees. Seemingly innocuous 10 ounce paperbacks or 1.2 pound hardcovers beckon to me in bookstores and online: Read me! Love me! BUY ME! “It’s just one little book,” I’d tell myself at Borders, taking the little seducer to the cashier. “These can’t weigh that much,” I’d murmur while browsing Amazon, impulsively adding multiple books to my virtual shopping cart. Thanks to this book obsession, I’ve had too much dead weight to deal with whenever it came time to move. Most of my books eventually found their way into homes that were not mine.
Right now, I’m sitting across from my bookshelf in my parents’ house in Malaysia. These are the books I’ve managed to keep, the few I’ve lugged back and stashed here each time I returned for the holidays. Do this for seven years, and you end up with a double shelved, groaning bookcase.
My fiancé has had enough of my book hoarding. He thinks technology has found the ultimate solution for all of us roving book lovers: e-books and e-readers. “The next time we go to the States,” he said, while helping me pull my book-filled suitcase to the airport, “I’m buying you a Kindle.”
It’s not like I haven’t thought about buying a Kindle. It does seem like the perfect way for me to never part with any of my precious books again. Whether I have fifty, a hundred or a thousand titles, they will always be with me, available at the push of a button, a tap of the screen. Those sad days of losing books around the world would be over once I have a Kindle in my hands.
But like many book lovers, I hesitate. I’ve been hesitating for a year, ever since my former flat mate bought a Kindle and I saw the wonder of easy one-handed reading for myself. Yes, I wish for a Kindle whenever I strain my back lifting boxes of paperbacks. But then I pull out each carefully kept book from the box, run my hands over the cover, flip through the pages to where my favorite scenes are. I breath in the comforting smell of an aging library, and wonder how an e-reader will ever make me this happy.
People who opt for tree books often argue that their reading experience isn’t complete without the physical book in their hands. They like flipping back and forth through the book, one hand acting as place marker while the other seeks out details on prior pages. I love tree books for similar reasons, although perhaps I take the appreciation of the physical book to a higher, more obsessive compulsive level.
Because to me, books and stories are never just words on pages. I admire the object that carries the tale – the colors of the cover, the quality of the paper, the size, the weight, the stiff spine. Regardless of whether it’s a $26 hardcover or a $7.99 mass market paperback, I baby my books, keeping them away from moisture and grime, and the grubby hands that threaten to leave books dog-eared, spine-cracked and moldy.
Sometimes I wonder whether my obsession with keeping books pristine is a particularly Asian one. I wrap my book covers in clear plastic to help them last longer, a practice that is apparently wildly popular in Asia, perhaps Australia, and nowhere else. See the YouTube videos below for examples of other Asians who like wrapping books:
My book-wrapping habit started when I moved to Malaysia as a tween, where many classes actual required students to wrap all our school books in plastic to protect them from wear and tear. The plastic-wrap habit was unheard of in my Canadian childhood, where by the middle of every school year, my half-used exercised books would already be stained from Kool-Aid and melted snowflakes, and starting to tear at the spines.
How does someone who worships the physicality of books switch to e-books? Would books matter less to me if I don’t have to put any effort into maintaining them?
And then there’s the other common argument against going digital – e-books from major publishers sometimes cost the same or slightly more than their physical versions. Even though I understand why these e-books are not dirt cheap (manufacturing tree books are only a small cost in the publishing process), this Asian book lover still balks – how can I bring myself to pay the same amount for a book I can’t hold in my hands? At this moment, the Amazon Kindle edition of Lisa See’s Dreams of Joy costs $11.99, while the trade paperback is selling there for $10.20. Wah, pay over one dollar less, can get a pretty printed copy! What for have Kindle?
In the end, I think value-minded penny-pinchers like me will unhesitatingly get a Kindle in this scenario: if publishers offered the irresistible magic words — package deals.
BUY HARDCOVER, ADD $1.99 FOR KINDLE EDITION! LIMITED TIME ONLY!
BUY KINDLE EDITION, ADD $4.99 FOR PAPERBACK!
Or something like that. This way, I get the best of both — the convenience of the Kindle during my travels, plus a library of beautiful books awaiting the day I finally settle into a house in the suburbs, one that I can weigh down with all the books in the world.
Amazon, get to it. Thanks.