I bet Santa left an e-reader under the tree for you or perhaps, it was one of your Hanukkah gifts. You may have even asked for it because you wanted to join the ever-growing legions of e-book devotees. But tell me, honestly, did you receive it with mixed feelings of curiosity and mild regret?
They say I should get an e-reader, and I know I should, too. They say I'll appreciate the ease of traveling with several novels stored in the neat tablet, or the well-lit surface. And because they know I care so deeply about the environment, they remind me that an e-reader doesn't consume trees.
I smile, and murmur, unable to look them in the eye, "Of course, you're right. I will get one, eventually."
I wonder how long I can hold out until I will be forced to join these passionate e-readers. I fear that, one day, hardback and paper books will be banned. I've become less willing, therefore, to loan out mine. At night, when I climb into bed after a long day's work, eager to slip in between the cool sheets, I reach for the latest book I'm reading with guilty pleasure.
The truth is that I love real books. I love the heft of them, the look of them, and the quiet, intimate experience that they provide. I love the neat framework that encloses some part of the writer's mind, just for me.
When I was a young girl, my mother took my siblings and me to the local library in Coral Gables, Florida, every two weeks. I felt a quiet thrill each time I walked through the large wooden double doors, past the coral rock walls and into this veritable treasure chest. What gems would I pick today? I would leave excited to devour the neat stack of books in my arms.
You see, each book I read while I was growing up was like a life raft thrown out to save me; the author, a beneficent guide to new ideas or interesting people. The book prepared me for life, testing my character as I projected myself into the literary characters' lives. I longed to someday join this elite group and hopefully, pass along the favor to other young readers.
Yes, yes, I know that the essence of the story is not changed whether you read it on a kindle or on paper. And yet, I imagine that the disadvantages of e-reading will far outweigh the possible benefits.
Will I have to charge yet another damn device? What will become of my favorite worn bookmarks, for example, the angel embossed on a tobacco-colored leather strip that I purchased in Venice, Italy? Won't I miss the silent telegraphing that occurs in a café or on a plane when other obsessive readers, as if we belong to some secret club, can see what I am now reading? Must I strip bare this beloved pastime when as the decades creep by I am already reduced to a gluten-free, treadmill-heavy, sleep-deprived existence?
I may be wrong -- my boyfriend says I am whenever he sits beside me reading on his iPad. Of course, he isn't sentimental about books in the same way I am. In my linen closet sits a box of favorite books, saved for my children's children, some of which were mine when I was a child. I have donated most of their books to our neighborhood school, but was unable to give away certain beloved ones like my dog-eared copies of Lulu, A Garden of Verses, The Velveteen Rabbit. I cannot imagine passing down these precious stories in an e-reader. Rather, I imagine with delight, holding a grandchild on my lap, pointing to a stain and saying, "your father did that." The thread of our family's reading history unbroken.
Look, I'm no Luddite. I had a cell phone and email way before most of my crowd. I even created a character called Ajna-Mac in my first novel, The Virtual Life of Lexie Diamond, a coming-of-age, supernatural mystery. The word ajna is Sanskrit for the third eye, and mac is short for the Macintosh computer that socially awkward Lexie Diamond considers to be her best friend. (I tried to interest Apple in cross-promotion but they never responded.)
In fact, I also love my Mac computer. I must because I spend copious amounts of time using them. And yet, I draw the line when it comes to reading e-books.
Can you possibly imagine the thrill I had when my editor at HarperCollins sent me an advance copy of Lexie Diamond? The dust jacket alone sent me into paroxysms of ecstasy, the graphic for each chapter heading, a fascination. So deep was this thrill that when I opened the package I didn't make a sound, I simply stared at it, overcome with emotion.
I should add that the publisher of my latest novel, the fantasy, adventure romance, Revealing Eden (Save the Pearls Part One), has released an e-version. I'm all for it, too: cheaper, no trees, no shipping.
It's just that, well, the story is large and wildly romantic. I wonder if the e-version can contain the heady themes of racial oppression and environmental loss mixed with romance and self-discovery: In a post-apocalyptic world where resistance to an overheated environment defines class and beauty, Eden Newman's white skin brands her as a member of the lowest social class, the weak and ugly Pearls. Doomed unless she mates soon, Eden hopes a Coal from the dark-skinned ruling class will save her. But when she unwittingly compromises her father's secret biological experiment, perhaps mankind's only hope, Eden is cast out -- into the last patch of rainforest and also the arms of a powerful beast-man she believes is her enemy, despite her overwhelming attraction to him. To survive, Eden must change -- but only if she can redefine her ideas of beauty -- and of love. Along the way, she receives some beautiful insight from her virtually adopted aunt Emily Dickinson.
Revealing Eden is being officially released on January 10, 2012. Advanced sales of the hardback version far exceed the e-version. I'm proud of both, really. But please, don't ask me to give up my real books.