I fear that in twenty years my children will not know what a book is, that a future library will look like a present-day computer lab. That they won’t know what paper smells like. New paper smell is the warm aroma of Xerox, is clean lust. Old paper smell is the musty waft of my grandmother’s favorite teen-hood book that she gave to me and I took but still haven’t finished because I started it and didn’t like it but it’s in my shelf because I thought maybe some day I’d return to it. Haven’t yet.
In the elementary school days, Mom and I would elevator up the ample body of the Marin County Civic Center, a Frank Lloyd Wright building. Slow elevator. The top floor of the Civic Center was the library, low-ceilinged, dark and vast and always a tad too warm. I’d check out a wobbly stack of books, bring them home, consume, then return the stack the next week, check out a new stack, et cetera. Sometimes I’d sit in the library just to sit, to listen to the simple whisper of thin pages turning. It was good to feel delicate, though it hurt when I shoveled down words faster than I understood them.
Mom was in a book club until it got too difficult to meet the monthly deadlines. And dad reads his Kindle. He avoids physical books, papers or anything with small writing. He’s embarrassed by his need to wear reading glasses — his Lasik eye surgery is no longer a “gift from God.” Dad likes Kindles because he can change the font size, he can see all of the words — he tells me all the same words are there. He tells me the Amazon Kindle can hold 3,500 books and weighs less than one paperback — bang for your buck. The Amazon Kindle allows no glare so he can read on the front porch with wine on summer evenings. No light source, moon or sun, will obscure those words. He bought Mom a Kindle too; she claims it’s just okay, though she carries it with her everywhere. At our annual Christmas-Eve-Eve party, a family friend gifted me a Kindle. Once wine was many bottles drunk (my parents’ job) and candles were snuffed (my job), I thrust the Amazon Kindle back into Dad’s hands — I’m sorry, I can’t accept this. I tell him that Kindles aren’t books. Books don’t need batteries, their lives are as long as they’re loved.
My grandmother should be the one with shelves of old books, but she adamantly buys them brand new. My parents should be the ones with the brand new books, but they worship their Kindles. And I should be the one with the Kindle, but I collect old books and display them like deer head trophies on a cabin wall.
I’m young! I’m the generation inventing Kindles! I have too many things in my backpack already and the knots in my shoulders feel like bone. I should honor the generosity of my parents whose friends give me nice things. I should march for environmental issues, scorn at bookstore chains everywhere for their glaring hatred for the future — they’re killing all the trees, everywhere. Dad doesn’t get it — aren’t you an environmentalist? Don’t you care about saving paper? I’m saving paper, he says. That’s not the point, I say.
I am currently writing on a computer, and much of my life is spent in this sitting, clacking position. My fingers are strong, my wrists are weak. I travel through my days eschewing our generation’s obsession with flickering screens, but I run into objects because I walk while ogling at my phone. While researching in the cozy warmth of my bedroom, I rely on e-books to search for quotes and save hours that would have been spent scouring the library. On a recent road trip from Austin to Evanston, my phone’s battery drained into the ethers and I couldn’t stop squirming in my seat — this phone was our map, was our only means of getting home. When my battery life neared the red zone (somewhere in Oklahoma), I snatched a notebook out of my backpack and scribbled the directions, pink marker in the dark. Though it looked like toddler art in the light, these paper directions survived the failure of technology.
To kindle is to ignite, and fire destroys paper. Even paper ripping sounds like a campfire crackling — beautiful, primal destruction. Writers used to sit for hours and scribble, scribble, crumple, toss, repeat indefinitely. Now we click-clack keyboard keys. Creating and erasing sounds the same. Destruction is fuel.
I just pressed backspace. Then I just typed something. Backspace. A word. Asdlfkjf doesn’t mean anything but it’s easy to do, my fingers strut up and down the keyboard and I’m fast, a crazy woman, don’t even need to look at the letters, even when I write real words that are not asdlfkjf (I’d never do that on paper). My fingers are mindless, I’m thinking the thought and it appears on the screen. There’s no time between an idea and its reality. Perhaps that’s our future. Perhaps we will write books just as fast as we read them — our Kindles will connect our minds in webs of words with no filter and no material manifestation, just fleeting feelings. Perhaps it’s evidence of emotion I crave.
Sometimes I feel as though I’m that old woman looking back on my life, looking at my parents and nodding good job, looking at myself, shaking my 20-year-old shoulders, shaking and screaming, you will be fine. The World is always changing. Has there ever been a change like this?
I consider the electronic lattice that provides the basis for most of my present-day relationships, and I feel certain it’ll crash. BOOM, and we’ll all end up on the side of the road in Who Knows Where, Oklahoma. But right now the Pizza Corral is nearby — there are power outlets inside — right now we can charge our phones.