The Case for Paper

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“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Here we go again: it’s time for me to pack up all my books as we are moving: just across town, but still, every single object, piece of food, lingering dust bunny, must be transported. The kids are having an interesting reaction to this idea: “Will this chair come? Do I get to bring my bed? Will we have lights there?”

Since, like many creative types, I lean towards being both impulsive and compulsive, I look at my shelves and shelves of books and think: of course, those are so easy, I’ll begin with the books. One narrow shelf per small book box. They stack perfectly and neatly next to each other. There is no scheming or planning for those boxes; it’s instant gratification.

And yet. And yet. Here I am just a few days after the boxes have been taped and stacked, and of course, I need a few of those books. For what? Why? Well I’m working on a blog post for someone in which I reference that scene in Cather in the Rye when Holden asks the cab driver where the ducks go in winter, and I can’t remember how the cab driver responds. And, my mother-in-law told me that her favorite book is Stuart Little and I’ve saved my copy from childhood and want to begin reading it with my daughter, but – you got it, it’s packed up. And, I just read an interview with George Saunders (one of my favorite writers) and he recommended a story that I want to read and I’m pretty sure I already have it one of my collections.  This is where the impulsiveness parts settles in. I’ve come to terms (partly by reading other writers’ memoirs) that a lot of fostering creativity is about these moments which we feel the need to answer the questions, or continue the study, or sit and peruse, immediately. It’s not so much about instant gratification, but allowing your mind to swell over a sliver of an idea that takes hold and begins to sprawl.

So what’s the answer to this conundrum? The books need to be packed. I cannot live in limbo forever. Do I have to become more resourceful? Will my friends who read on screens chalk this up to one more point for i-readers? “All of these books are online,” they’d argue. “Just press a button, wait for a screen to light up, and type and scroll and you could find those lines you’re looking for.” A few of them have even pointed out how great it is that you can even see what other writers have highlighted on the book. You can click on say, J.D. Salinger’s name and learn more about him. I imagine Salinger rolling over in his grave.

But again, I digress. Sort of. I need that moment of physically pulling the book off of the shelf, of slumping down in an armchair and flipping through the pages, eyeing the text, and searching for a familiar word or collection of words to alert me that I’m getting close. I need to hold the pages in my hands, feel my thumb get a little numb from pressing down on a selection of pages. So that’s why, as I lose more and more of the books (temporarily) to the boxes, and I feel what it would actually feel like to live in a world where my books would become digital, it’s how I know for sure that I could never live that way.

P.S. – I was also so so so sad to learn of Pat Conroy’s passing last weekend. He really was one of the first writers I connected with – whose books I had to read, one after another. It has been years – maybe even decades – since I’ve read his work, so who knows how I’d feel about the writing now, but he did something for me back then, and I’ll always be grateful for any writer for that. I also can’t find any of these books and I’m mad at myself for giving them away at some point. I want to reread!  And I just came across this quote that also makes me feel a bit better:

“You get a little moody sometimes but I think that’s because you like to read. People that like to read are always a little fucked up.”
Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides




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