I was rearranging my bookcase today, in a mildly obsessive manner, because I decided for whatever reason that the books should be arranged by height rather than by author or publisher. A strictly aesthetic change, but one I felt strongly about.
When I had the books all pulled out and sitting in random piles on the floor, I thumbed through a few of them and took an unexpected and nostalgic trip. There were phone numbers of old friends scribbled on inside covers. There were birthday messages written on title pages. There were even some stains that reminded me of drinks and food I’d consumed while I read them. And I couldn’t get over some of the things that had been used as bookmarks — boarding passes from trips I took years ago, napkins from restaurants that have long since shuttered their doors, and even a grocery list of items that, since it was folded into long-closed pages, I can only assume I never bought.
It got me thinking about electronic book readers, like the Kindle, the iPad, and the Nook. The appeal of these devices is obvious — you can download hundreds of books into them, they’re lightweight and easy to transport, they’re environmentally friendly, and they don’t require a bookcase. As a fan of cool new gadgets, and a fan of anything that promotes literacy, I think they’re great. But as they become more common and their use more widespread, I think something is indelibly lost. You’ll never find any of the things I found today in an e-reader. It’ll never have dog-eared pages or highlighted passages indicating a well-loved and well-read story. To me it makes great literature disposable, and that’s something great literature (and hell, even crappy literature) should never be.
I suppose it’s the way the world is trending. In the home of the future (and in some of the present) you won’t have media cabinets filled with CDs or DVDs. You won’t have a separate TV and computer. And you won’t have bookshelves loaded with pages and pages of the written word.
My original ending was to ask how one would bring an e-reader to an author’s book signing. But I suppose in the future, we won’t have book signings either.
By Steve Boudreault
I read Tropic of Cancer during my senior year of college, and I have a confession to make: I didn’t like it. Not even the dirty parts. You may think that this doesn’t warrant a confession, but I felt really guilty about not enjoying an acclaimed piece of literature. I also hated The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Reading these books made me react in a gut-churning, visceral way that I just couldn’t explain. Looking back on it, I think my extreme reaction had to do with where I was in my life. I was graduating from college and single-mindedly preparing to do my part by entering the workforce. I ignored the little voice that whispered, “But backpacking around Europe would be fun!” and “By getting a job you’re just supporting the capitalistic culture that we must reject! You’re such a consumer!” Actually, that second little voice may have been my boyfriend. But the point is, I had a goal. And no matter how attractive those little voices were, or how big a part of me did want to drop everything and go Kerouacing around the country, I simply couldn’t embrace the Beat philosophy of non-conformism when I was doing everything I could to conform.
But then something funny happened. A few weeks ago, I had an evening to myself so I took Tropic of Cancer from my bookshelf and could not put it down. I found it inspiring. Even the dirty parts.
Anyone who has ever helped me move will tell you that my collection of books is ridiculously large. They were stacked two deep on my bookshelves even before my husband added his collection to mine. But despite the desperate urgings to pare down that I get from friends as they struggle to carry box after box of books to each new walk-up I call home, I can’t get rid of them. They’re a chronicle of my life. I stand in front of my shelf and think, I read that one when I was in China and that one when I was in Rome. That one was a gift from my college roommate and that one made me cry. Love notes fall from the pages of some and the pages of others are filled with quickly scribbled thoughts and underlines. But more important than the sentimental value of these books is what a re-read years later can teach me about myself. People evolve slowly and almost imperceptibly, but when my reaction to a book that I read years ago has changed, it’s a powerful reminder that I have changed. And that’s worth all the box-carrying shoulder strain in the world.
By Emily Olson
Current editions of Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have replaced the word “nigger” with “slave.”
This is completely unacceptable.
There’s a very famous statement by Pastor Martin Niemoller regarding the Nazi rise to power, and it is as follows:
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
Twain isn’t around to defend his work, and unless someone stands up and says something, the change will be made and the original creation will be lost forever. This is an incredibly slippery slope – if it’s allowed to happen once, it will be allowed to happen again and again until the integrity of all of the classics deemed offensive or inappropriate are censored and sanitized.
And what’s with the double standard? Tupac Shakur, 50 Cent, and Snoop Dogg all have multiple songs with the word “nigger” in them. Why no censorship there? Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy used the word liberally in their acts in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Why aren’t they being similarly altered?
By the way, if you’re going after the word in literature, you’ve got a pretty long list to get to. To Kill a Mockingbird, Heart of Darkness, Tropic of Cancer, Crime and Punishment, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ulysses, Naked Lunch, Lord of the Flies, A Farewell to Arms, and many others all contain the word “nigger.” How long before those originals are forever lost?
Yes, some words are offensive. But authors use words, offensive and otherwise, to create rich tapestries that are handed down through the ages. Tug on just one string of one of those tapestries, and they all unravel.
By Steve Boudreault