Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Big Book

James Gleik in the New York Times on November 29:
As a technology, the book is like a hammer. That is to say, it is perfect: a tool ideally suited to its task. Hammers can be tweaked and varied but will never go obsolete. Even when builders pound nails by the thousand with pneumatic nail guns, every household needs a hammer. Likewise, the bicycle is alive and well. It was invented in a world without automobiles, and for speed and range it was quickly surpassed by motorcycles and all kinds of powered scooters. But there is nothing quaint about bicycles. They outsell cars.
This is what I've always said, and my morning commute just reaffirmed my beliefs. I'm reading Bolano's 2666 right now, and yes, it's completing amazing. I haven't been this sucked into a book in a long time. But what I was thinking about today was how corporeal the experience of reading it is, how physical. Here's this book, this big, badass sprawling novel that took years to write. It should weigh something. It should remind you, physically, that it's there. To be blunt, it ought to be a pain in the ass to carry around.

Marc Jacobs once said that Louis Vuitton wasn't about subtlety, it was about being a little bit of a showoff. Let's face it, lugging around 2666 is kind of the same way. It's a big flag that says, "Yeah, I'm reading this." Across the aisle from me was a woman reading something on her Kindle. She might have been reading 2666, too, but for all I know, it was a romance novel. The point is, I didn't know. And where's the fun in that? It did make for an interesting picture of the current reading climate. There we were, commuting, reading, each in our own way. There was room for both of us in the train and for both of our "books" in the market.

Was this woman the trailblazer while I was the troglodyte? Possibly, except that as I looked around the train, I spotted a lot of people reading. More to the point, they were all reading big, thick novels. What were they all reading? Twilight, Eclipse, New Moon, and Breaking Dawn. Is it a coincidence that the bestselling books, the hottest books are these huge, weighty tomes? Probably, but let's, just for a second, imagine that these books represent a statement about the importance of physicality, the vitality of the printed word and the value of paper.

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