Today seems just as good a day as any to set out, my not particularly intellectual, reasons for not owning a Kindle, (or any other electronic pseudo-book device). I am currently on a Greyhound bus travelling towards Duluth, Minnesota at a reasonable clip. I have been on this bus (with a drunk shouty lady and an Asian man who claps in swimming goggles and the upper section of a tuxedo), for eight hours and fifteen minutes. I have around ninety more minutes to endure before I am permitted to leave this bus. I have not been able to feel my own legs since the parking lot of MacDonald’s on the outskirts of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Yes, the seats are reasonably cramped on a Greyhound and yes, I do have burly Americans reclining in front and behind me. However, the main reason for my current discomfort is the twenty nine paperback novels I am currently hauling in boxes and backpacks and low-hanging satchels, (like some kind of literary version of Buckaroo), all around North America.
I have been told that in order to make the Kindle an environmentally worthwhile purchase, more meaningful than say, buying your books from an independent bookstore, you need to read an average of twenty seven books per year. Most people don’t even read seven books per year. I have twenty nine strapped to me right now. You’d think I might be tempted by a Kindle. Add to this the fact that the fifteen copies of Malcolm Orange Disappears I’m transporting to Duluth in an unmarked, cardboard box, have just created a security breach in Minneapolis bus station where I stumbled out of the Greyhound in search of vending machine Doritos only to find three uniformed men poking at my books with gloved fingers and threatening to, “rip it apart.” You’d think after this, and the embarrassment of trying to coerce an average-sized bookcase into an overhead locker on many many airplanes, both domestic and international, or up several flights of stairs on the underground or into the pocket-sized trunk of the benevolent mini cooper driver who offered me a ride to the train station; you’d think I might concede to buying a Kindle, if only for travelling.
But no! I refuse. Electronic books are not books to me. They don’t smell like the fiction room at Powell’s. They don’t dog ear. They don’t keep fantastic independent bookstores like Mystery to Me in Madison, Wisconsin, (where I read last night), alive and flicking from one story to the next. They can’t be lent or swapped. They refuse to fall into alphabetical order on my bookshelf. They don’t grow old and familiar like friends you’ve known since High school and drop in on every so often. They simply are not bookish enough for me. And so I will continue to haul my paperback treasury around America. I will slip a disk and sacrifice shoes at the check in desk before I leave a single book behind. And when I get back to East Belfast, and arrange my new books, (all forty two of them for I feel like New York will be where my buying resolves capitulates entirely), in alphabetical order, across my living room walls they will be clear and present for as long as I want them to be and not just ’til the battery runs out. And no matter how much my shoulders hurt and my legs cramp I will be glad, like all those American actors in Saving Private Ryan, that I did not leave a single man behind.