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June 29, 2008

I’ve started reading Lord Dunsany’s Curse of the Wise Woman while I’m doing the treadmill in the mornings. I’ve wanted to read it for years–it sits on my shelf and remonstrates with me every time I choose another book. It remonstrates with an Irish accent, which is nice, and its language is never salty due to Dunsany’s gentility, but it still wears on you after a while. So I broke down this morning and started it. It also fits nicely on the treadmill console without sliding off, which the other two books I’m working on won’t do. It starts off with a metaphorical bang; I’m looking forward to reading it tomorrow. I’m vowing here to only read it on the treadmill, thereby giving me additional motivation to workout each morning.

At any rate, the copy I’m reading is a beautiful first edition from 1933 that I bought at the marvellous Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway, Ireland six or seven years ago (the photo is of Galway High Street–Kenny’s is halfway down on the left). It’s even got a great little stamp inside the backThe High Street in Galway. Kenny's is halfway up on the left. cover letting me know that it was originally sold from Higganbotham’s Booksellers of Madras and Bangalore–one of the most important English booksellers in colonial India. It’s a beautiful little book, though not necessarily ornate. It’s hardcover, green with gold-embossed geese on the front cover and gold-embossed title on the spine. There’s an errata slip on the reverse of the title page. It’s lovely to smell the dust, accumulated over 75 years and three or four continents, while I’m reading.

It really pulled me back into appreciation of books as material objects. I’ve been aware lately of how much the publishing industry is moving towards alternative forms of publication and distribution–wholly electronic and/or print-on-demand is the coming wave. Blackwell’s in England is about to offer a publishing “espresso machine” that offers an in-store electronic search followed by in-store print-on-demand for over a million titles, and there is of course the Kindle (ye gods, how I want a Kindle!). And there are plenty of authors who are offering their books or stories online as downloadable pdf files–that’s how I got Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen. Even Kenny’s in Ireland, where I bought the Lord Dunsany book, bills itself on its web site as “Ireland’s largest online bookseller.” In general I’m in favor of all this. Storytelling–literature–needs to keep up with the changing technology in order to survive, and frankly that’s what it’s always done.

But, there’s still a special sort of attraction exerted, on me at least, by the printed book. The entire sensory experience of reading an actual book–smell, touch, sight–has yet to be equaled. And not just old books, though those are especially wonderful; I love new books as well. Walking through a bookshop and picking up random books is like recharging a battery for me. I believe that music will be 100% digital inside of ten years, but I can’t imagine that books will ever go completely away. I hope not anyway.

But I still want a Kindle.


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