Friday, March 6, 2015


Immerse me, Baby!
Confessions of a logomaniac
It's like saying goodbye to an illicit lover. You knew going in that it couldn't last forever, knew you'd have exactly so much time together, and no more. You try to draw it out, postpone the inevitable, but sooner or later, you need that climax more than anything. And then it's all over.

Yeah, reading a great book is like that.

When I read, I want the full monty—to touch the paper, smell the ink, hear the rustle of pages, in all ways savor the strangeness and exotica of the world I'm holding in my hands. Logomania, they call it: a sensual obsession with books.

And it looks like I'm not alone. According to a popularly-shared recent study in the Washington Post, the new generation of millennials—particularly those in the 18-29 age range—prefer reading for pleasure on real, old-fashioned paper-and-ink books. Who knew? They claim reading is a more immersive experience while holding a real book in their hands. They also say they're much less distracted by the urge to multitask—check their email or Twitter feed—than when they are reading something digitally.

Hear, hear! I suppose a hand-held reading device is more convenient than lugging a sackful of books around, especially when traveling. But it's not for me. I tend to read slowly, which I wish I could say was a careful habit acquired during my years as a book critic for the SF Chronicle.
 I need pages to tell Lannisters from Starks.

But the truth is, I'm just a plodder, going back frequently through stuff I've already read to make sure I've understood something correctly, or to re-read a previous scene in light of new developments in the plot.

How can I scroll backwards through pages or chapters of text on a monitor and still keep my place? What if I have to keep referring to a cast of characters at the front of the book, or footnotes, or a glossary at the end?

Yes, the paper-free society of the future will be ecologically correct, a boon for the planet, the trees, and the rain forests. And any gadget that gets written matter into the hands of at-risk (of not reading) youth is a good thing, although I can't understand why digital is superior in that respect; a book already is a hand-held device.

As a writer, of course, if anyone wants to read my books via Kindle, braille, Morse-code, or an old View-Master, I couldn't be more thrilled. But as a reader, all I ask is the right to one simple, tactile pleasure that doesn't have to be recharged, connected, or booted up for me to enjoy.

Sure, they probably used to say the same sort of thing about Guttenberg and the printing press, back in the day: how can you claim to have savored the total reading experience in all its privilege and majesty if some monk didn't go blind transcribing every precious one-of-a-kind page for your pleasure?

And I know the technoids charge that we logomaniacs are making a fetish out of an inanimate object with no intrinsic value of its own beyond the story it conveys. But it's not that I idolize the sacred idea of the book; it's the thing itself I treasure, a comforting presence, like an old friend.

Paper breathes, ink bleeds, a book bends and folds and whispers to the hand in a way a piece of plastic never can. Even after I finish reading a wonderful book, I still occasionally touch the cover or fondly riffle through the pages. It's over between us, yet it's a great comfort to me to keep this tangible relic of all we shared so close at hand.

Parting could never be such sweet sorrow from a hunk of cold plastic.

(Top: Photo by Robbert van der Steeg)

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