• Elizabeth Bartasius

When Books Die

We’ll likely live to see the day when books in paper form are no longer published. I don’t want books to die. Ever since I was a pre-teen reading Danielle Steels novels in the back of the family suburban on long road trips, I have wanted to write books, to see my work published in paper form.

Holding a book gives me incredible joy. Especially if it’s a beautiful book. They are delicate art object I can run my hand over, feel the coarseness of the paper, look at the black words so neatly printed. Inside the treasures, I find ideas, pearls of sentences, unknown words—they all take me on a journey.

While words, sentences, and ideas are also on Kindle, it’s not the same for me. A paperback is a friend with its own unique life force, not one in a million zillion bits of data clumped together into a single handheld device. With a paper book, I can feel the energy of that story, and that story alone (not a million others clumped together). I can, in my hand, feel the weight of the ideas in that story, the connection to the characters, and the essence of the author, their desires, their struggle, their plight.

I can integrate that one book into my own life. I can flip through pages and breath its life. As my fingers touch the print, it becomes part of me, for a time, a short time, and I breathe.

I feel grounded when I touch paper. I feel a buzz when I touch technology.

I feel calm when I slowly flip one page over to read the next. I feel overwhelmed in the volume of pages I have access to in Kindle.

I feel confident when I can, at a glance, assess the length of a journey on a single page. Can I hold it in one hand or do I need two? Is it a tome or a quick read? Are the margins big enough to write in? In a Kindle, I feel claustrophobic. I don’t know where I’m going in an electronic device. I like knowing.

Books in Kindle are a Howard Johnson buffet. I can’t smell, I can’t taste, I can’t feel the soul of the story. I’m not dissing electronic books. They are awesome in so many ways: environmentally friendly, can fit twenty books into your carry on, a huge space saver for literary lovers living in tiny apartments. I see their digital value. I’m just saying, I’ll miss old-school books when they die.

Even though books are heavy, I’ll miss them when they die.

Even though when you accumulate a lot of them, it’s hard to decide what do with them.

I’ll miss them even though in the Caribbean they mold, collect dust, activate my allergies.

Even though once I’ve read a book it usually retires on the shelf.

Even though and despite the fact that 10 books in a suitcase weigh a ton, I will miss books.

I will miss walking into bookstores with creaking wood floors and shelves, stacked with titles, rising to the roof.

I will miss wall ladders that roll along the front of bookcases to reach the prized collections at the top.

I will miss bookstore owners with their hand-written recommendation slips.

I will miss understanding a new acquaintance's mindset, values, and joy through the titles on their shelves.

I will miss borrowing a book from someone’s shelf and morphing it into my collections, never returning it, until years later when I notice their name on the inside flap.

I will miss donating piles to Goodwill excited for some stranger to have the transformation I did when I read it.

I will miss the comfort of sipping tea on the couch, surrounded by my past.

I will miss beautiful images and spine titles speaking to me from the shelf.

I will miss the possibility of re-reading the same book I read 20 years ago, still pristine in it’s jacket.

I will miss the painter’s stroke of a highlighter pen shimmering over my favorite quote or sentence.

I do not want these memories to die.

I do not want to be left bookless and crispy clean.

I want the stink of their mildew, a reminder of my grandfather’s library and the history that built me.