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I am often caught between stacks of reading books.
There’s the Kindle supply. There’s the Libby queue, which is constantly moving and always seems to have another book ready for me just a few days before I’m ready. The Audible queue and its not-so-helpful reminders are a reminder that I have another credit available. And no, don’t tell me I can get my audiobooks from Libby because sometimes some titles are not available there. And there is my current stack of printing books looming threateningly near my head as I sleep every night. The top one is flipped up to hold my place and maybe just sways a little.
It is my suspicion – my assumption – that most modern readers have some version of this multi-pronged, multi-channel TBR list battle. Right?
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We all have specific platforms and formats that we prefer our books to be in, and we all find ourselves collecting these different stories from all sides. It’s a little overwhelming, but what alternative is there? So as not to hoard every tantalizing title we come across?
And believe me, I’ve thought about it a lot.
With that in mind, I keep getting the nagging feeling that the accumulation of printed books should be something I could have gotten rid of in my technologically-enabled, very modern, digital lifestyle.
They just take up so much space. You are heavy. They manifest in piles all over my not-so-large DC apartment. They physically prevent me from reaching books lower in the stack and diminish my ability to read what I am craving right now. And so on.
But. Every time I start eliminating my printed books, I come across the reality that there are still certain things a printed book can do that other formats cannot offer me as a reader.
At the beginning, they enable a unique game with the novel format that other storytelling formats simply do not allow.
Perhaps the best example of this is Lauren Oliver’s creative interpretation of intertwined narratives in Replica. In this science fiction novel for young adults, Oliver told her story from the perspective of two teenage girls from very different worlds whose stories overlap. Part of the brilliance of this novel is the packaging: a character’s story is told from start to finish on the first pages of the book. The story of the other character is told – well, from the other first pages of the book, because instead of one cover and back, this one has two covers.
Part of the fun in this book is deciding how to handle the arcs of the two characters. Are you reading one story all the way through, then turn it over and read the other? Do you switch between the two? Whichever choice you make, this experience is inherently tactile, a reading that needs to be printed. I really don’t know how to recreate such an interaction in a digital format.
To a lesser extent, there are other creative, format games that also require pressure.
Take, for example, Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown, which is written in screenplay format. While I prefer most of my reading in audiobook format these days, I have made a commitment to save this in print so that I can reflect the format. In fact, as your intrusive reader friend with too many opinions, I would insist that you do this with most of Yu’s works. A good part of its brilliance lies in the formatting, and I doubt even digital text formats could appreciate that as well.
See also: Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me, in which the heroine’s fragile inner monologue is enhanced by crossed-out thoughts and other nuances that greatly enhance the tone and resonance.
This is a facet of the art of novel writing that I never want to lose, and for that reason alone, printing is never removed from my reading queues – although new facets that are unique to digital formats will certainly continue to emerge, too.
Then of course there are other ways in which printed books are uniquely valued. There are signed copies that not only depict a loved text or an admired author, but also a moment when these things came together for a face-to-face encounter. These signed copies have grown into an increasingly large part of my print collection over the years and will stay with me my entire life.
Then of course there are the elegantly packaged special editions and the beloved and battered favorites of childhood.
You can lift them all off my cold, dead fingers and not a second before.
I suppose we’ve been predicting the death of pressure for some time. But my print stack is my most precious part of my writing queue, and that will never change, even if a part of me wants to clean up and simplify to get away from the overwhelming variety of sources that are drifting books in my direction.
Each of them continues to offer something unique and irreplaceable, and every time I try to simplify I come across all sorts of reasons why, just like here with printing, each of them is absolutely necessary.
The practical solution is clearly to read faster.