When I was at Princeton last month, I went into a local bookstore in search of the Lemony Snicket books and wandered into the used books section. Have you ever noticed when you walk into a used book store, there’s this “old book smell” that hits you? Sounds kind gross, but it’s strangely satisfying and exciting. There’s a used books shop I usually go to where I live, but there was something special about this bookstore in downtown Princeton. Maybe it’s my bias for all things old and East Coast, but that scent reminded me of the basement of my old piano teacher’s house. In that basement of Mr. B’s where I would have my hour-long lesson every week and re-discover my love for that instrument and for classical music in general, where I would be reminded that discipline and practice are not only essential, but could be enjoyable as well, there were shelves and shelves full of old books. And usually, I would browse collections of satirical comic strips that I had never seen or heard of before or skim through page after page of poetry and literature while I waited for my turn at the piano. And that room, as I remember it now, was filled with the scent of well-read, well-loved books.
As much of a technophile as I am, I will admit that I don’t think I’ll ever switch to ebooks. Aside from the fact that I can take a book anywhere and read it anytime without the aid of a computer or other secondary device, there is something to be said about the physical artifact of books. I’m the kind of person that almost always buys a copy of a book I want to read and keeps it on my shelf for years and years to come so that I can have it as a reminder of the joy and experiences (no matter how vicarious) it gave me and to come back to it time and time again. I have no qualms about reading a book over and over again and I’ve still got my old middle school and high school copies of everything from The Outsiders to Childhood’s End to Invisible Man. And as I look back at those books, I can’t imagine wanting to live in a world with only ebooks. Maybe I’m stuck in an old paradigm, maybe I’m too attached to the physical, but I can’t help enjoying the deeper memories associated with those books, re-reading handwritten inscriptions inside an old paperback or remembering when I was obsessed with Vonnegut and would carry around The Sirens of Titan or Mother Night and get lost within the pages. I’m a sucker for it all and while I suppose there will probably come a time where ebooks will become the standard, where we will let go of the burden of paper and print, but I’m not so sure we should.
(And by the way, no matter how old you are, you should pick up the Lemony Snicket books. Although filled with a series of unfortunate events, they’re still lovely.)