I just finished a book, and I’ve been playing around with this idea in my head for a while: I like the universality of books. I think that’s one of their most redeeming features. They’ve got a few other benefits, too: They’re portable (you can pretty much bring them anywhere), and you can drop them in a swimming pool, and with a little bit of effort, still read them. I’ve tried. But at the same time, they’ve got a lot of downsides.
First of all, they take a hell of a long time to finish. To give you an example, the book I just finished was 323 pages long, and I’ve been reading it on and off throughout the day. In fact, if I were to break my day down, that’s all I really did today, suffice rather routine things like having lunch.
Somewhere in my earlier schooling they implanted the idea in my head that the novel was invented as a kind of book that was meant to be finished in an evening. This, I’ve come to discover, is complete crap — a fairy tale invented by one English teacher and passed down through generations and generations of lying English teachers.
Imagine the time period surrounding the instance when the novel was created: People went to bed at 7 p.m. because it got dark. Conversations around that time were quite similar to this:
“”Hey, Ebenezer, looks like the sun just set.””
“”I guess we’re screwed now. Off to bed we go.””
Considering they had tea at 3 p.m. and supper at 5 p.m., that leaves about two hours to constitute their “”evening.”” And anyone who finishes novels in less than two hours is either: a.) A speed reader. b.) Reading Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew joint mystery capers — a fine collection I might add. c.) A damned liar, much like English teachers who claim novels were meant to be finished in an evening.
Another problem with books is the whole “”you should be reading them”” stigma attached to them. It’s almost the same as when you were younger and your parents said, “”It’s such a wonderful day outside, you should be out enjoying that instead of inside the house.”” The suggestion was much more than a veiled excuse for your parents to have sex. It’s a statement designed to make you feel bad about watching MTV, playing video games and not allowing your parents to have sex.
The “”you should be reading them”” stigma rears its ugly head later in your life, unless you’re a nerd like my sister, and actually list reading books as what you would do if you were bored in a pseudo-intellectual-I-like-the-bookmarks-Amazon.com-gives-me-with-stupid-quotes-from-famous-dead-philosophers-about-books-that-simply-promote-buying-more-books-by-making-you-feel-good-about-buying-more-books sort of way, in the form of feeling bad because you’re going through life without really reading any books, or if you are reading books, you’re not reading the really good books, just the trashy ones.
But I seem to have gotten off my main point, which was that I liked the universality of books. In other words, I could read a book in San Diego, and recommend it to my friend in Idaho (not that I would have any friends in Idaho), and he could go to his local Borders with a built-in cafe and purchase the same book.
Perhaps this is saying something about the prevalence of Borders Books in the United States, or the universality of everything, such as CDs and movies. But it’s not the same with CDs or movies. Well, it sort of is, but it’s not. You could have a better stereo than your friend, or a bigger TV, and you’re not really experiencing the same thing he’s experiencing as you are with a book.
True, you can buy a hardcover and he could buy a paperback, but they really are almost the same. The text doesn’t really change unless you get one of those large-print books, which I actually kind of like. I fight nearly blind people for them at the library.
When I was in eighth grade, I got a copy of Naval Shute’s “”The Beach”” at the Glendale Public Library and the only remaining copy of it was in large print. It was like 1,400 pages long, and had some paraplegic spittle on it. At least, I always assumed it was paraplegic spittle. It never really occurred to me until now that it could have been ordinary person spittle, like librarian spittle, or local-resident-browsing-through-large-print-stacks spittle, but let’s face it: Who really browses through large-print stacks except paraplegics?
Regardless, the spittle was on the front cover, and it was so old it was almost petrified. The whole time I was reading it I was careful to avoid touching the petrified spittle, so I suppose my experience of reading that book was a little different than, say, some guy in Utah reading a 150-page paperback. What I’m saying is that on the average, books have a built-in universality that is rather neat — “”neat”” being the only kind of word I could possibly use when I consider what a nerd I must sound like right now.
I also like the fact that books are one of the few things I can do nowadays that I can talk to my dad about. I can’t say, “”So, Dad, what do you think of the new Radiohead album? Do you think the lack of guitars is a bold move, considering the success of their last album?”” But he can say to me, “”‘The Fountainhead,’ why are you reading that piece of garbage?””
My mother can say to me, “”Oh yeah, Ayn Rand. Your father can’t stand her,”” as if he went to college with Ayn Rand and she was really annoying. I find that most parents, not just mine, have the same view of “”The Fountainhead.”” They think it’s a flaming pile of tripe, and not the good tasting tripe. Some of them give it a little slack and say it’s a nice story, but most of the points made are crap, which is basically what my mother said about the Bible when I said I was going to a church retreat.
One last thing I should note is that there’s truth in the saying “”only lend the books you never care to see again.”” To give you a brief example, I have Steve’s copy of “”Snowcrash,”” Dave has my copy of “”Mostly Harmless,”” but I have his copy of “”Swann’s Way,”” yet he has my copy of “”Cat’s Cradle,”” which has personal sentimental value for me because it was a Christmas present from Laura, whose copy of “”Bech”” I have.
I remember once in high school I traded my father’s copy of “”1984″” for some guy named Tyler’s copy of some book that began with “”Perceptions by Huxley”” but I let Jeremy borrow it, and it’s been missing in action ever since. The fact that I let someone borrow a borrowed book is a perfect example of what to do with your books: Leave them on your shelf, and if someone asks about one of them, comment on the prevalence of Borders Books in the United States.