Some of my favorite days in elementary and middle school were the days the Scholastic Book Club order form came out. I would notice the shrink-wrapped stack of newsprint sitting, without fanfare, on the teacher's desk. I didn't know when the form would make its appearance, but I could guarantee that at some point during that day or week, the teacher would open that packet up and start passing out the four-page leaflet to me and my classmates. This was usually a "put this in your folder and show it to your parents" moment, but I could never help but sneak a glance at all of the books the leaflet had to offer, books I would have never heard about had it not been for this little newsletter. And because it had the word "club" on the front, it felt like I was part of a very exclusive, underground gang of young readers, anxious to gobble up any book available.
The form would eventually wind up in my backpack, and I would feel frustration rise up when I got home and opened my backpack to find the form had become crumpled. Still, I would flatten it out on top of a text book and grab a pen, when pens were cool because we weren't allowed to use them in school, and I would carefully read the description of each book, circling the ones I wanted. Now, about seven times out of ten, my mom would sadly inform me that we couldn't afford to get new books this time, but I still wanted to circle the ones I wanted, as though I were starting my own little book list at 10 years old. But there were those three times out of ten that Scholastic Book Club coincided with my dad getting a paycheck full of overtime, or thanks be to God, it came right around tax-refund time when my mom would buy us steak for dinner. And those times are what I remember more, even though I rarely was able to get every book I wanted. It didn't matter - I got to pick which books I wanted more than other books, and I got to fill out the order form and go to school the next day with a check! for something I wanted.
My tweenager mind would often forget that I had submitted the order, so the day when the books came was an even more magical day, a bigger surprise (and a much bigger disappointment if I was unable to order books that round). I would notice the box of books, and I knew that the teacher would not distribute them until the end of class. This made the class drag on forever, and I would be eyeing the clock on the wall with intensity and fervor, noticing when it was seven minutes from the end of class, five minutes from the end, three minutes... come on, we're not going to have time! Finally, the moment would come, and the teacher would pass out the stacks of books. Usually the books came with a sticker or a bookmark, and always came with another order form, just in case your teacher didn't have the next month's order form, you could order on your own! The books were colorful and cool to the touch, and they smelled new. There was little better to me than the smell of a new book, except maybe the smell of more than one new book.
I would say that this is when my tactile response to books began, but it probably started earlier, with the first book I learned to read, "I Am a Bunny." I can't remember the words exactly to the book, but I remember with clarity my copy of the book, a cardboard copy, worn from use and duct-taped together, with the stickiness of the duct tape finding its way all over the book, not just at the binding. And as I think about it now, it seems like it's consistent for me to remember the way a book looks and feels more than what's actually in the book. I can see clearly the cover of "Island of the Blue Dolphin," "Hatchet," and "Sixth Grade Sleepover," but I can't really remember what those books were about.
This tactile element of reading has never left me, and I like to collect books. I like to actually have them in my possession to re-visit them. I'm not a big library customer. The best part about the internet is that I can order books and order them cheaply. I've embraced all sorts of technology that seems to make life easier and less cluttered - I've done away with all of my jewel cases and have my CDs stored neatly in a CD book - I don't even buy real CDs anymore - bills are paid solely online, and personal mail is non-existent unless it's in my email inbox. I embrace all of this.
When Kindle came out, it seemed like something I'd be all over. 1500 books at the touch of your hand?! YES PLEASE! But the more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder if I lost the element of the physical book, would I really remember that I read the book? Would I remember the time in my life the book corresponds with? Yes, my nightstand would be less cluttered, and I would probably read more, but books to me are more than just things that take up space. They are memories. They are photographs that I want displayed so that I can remember how I've grown and how I've changed. I want to be able to pick them up and leaf through them, to feel the wind as the pages fly past my fingers while I look for the excerpt that I underlined or highlighted, or simply remember reading. And I want my kids (when I have them) to hold all of those books when I'm gone, and to read them and experience them in their own way, in their own time, while my fingerprints and pen marks remain throughout the pages. Immortality with books isn't reserved for authors - it can also include the owners and readers of the books, and I simply feel like I would be missing out on something significant by switching to electronic text solely. I might change my mind someday, but for now, I'll deal with the clutter.