I bring books everywhere. I bring them on the train, to class, to work. Even if I don’t get the chance to read, I bring them anyway, just in case. I also bring books on dates. They fill the lonely lag time between drinks or when one of us goes to the bathroom. And generally, the people I date tend to respond favorably to a studious partner.
Recently, I went on a date to a film screening at the Hammer Museum and brought along One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. My habit of reading between interactions had been novel once, but my partner was used to it now. He returned to me unfazed, instead commenting that I was the only voracious reader he knew who had not transitioned to a Kindle. “There’s no justifying books anymore,” he said. “Kindles are just better.”
Rationally, I had to agree. I used a Kindle for my classes abroad, and it considerably lightened my load. I still use it for certain classes, when the book is markedly cheaper in that format than hard copy.
But on an emotional level, I couldn’t make the commitment. Not completely. The truth was I had never fallen in love with a Kindle book the way I had with the paper version, not even Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh, which I devoured in under a week. Books I’ve read in hard copy have stayed with me for years, soothing me with their soft covers and dog-eared pages. I know that in that specific body, there is a specific story, specific ideas, a specific voice. A book is knowable, like a person.
In a Kindle, the stories are all mixed together. Ayn Rand lives in the same space as Walter Benjamin, Noam Chomsky in the same typeface as Dan Brown. A Kindle is like a city masquerading as a singular person and the duplicity of it is somewhat off-putting.
Of course, none of this was nearly as eloquent when I offered my date a defense of physical books. I hadn’t thought about it really; I merely felt a difference. There were certain books I just cared too much for to allow them to languish in the muddled cacophony of my Kindle.
But the truth is, I am that polyphonic medley of interwoven stories, my ideologies tangled somewhere between the levity Demetri Martin and the heft of Ernest Hemingway, the unruly wordplay of Toni Morrison and the unambiguous explanations of Stephen Pinker. My date, a voracious reader himself, was just as complex. As comfortable as it was to condense us both into our own contained, multifaceted book, it wasn’t accurate. I wouldn’t want him to see me as just one way and it wouldn’t be realistic or respectful for me to reduce him either.
Had I reduced all my former flames to keep my love for them simple? Had I only fallen for those I could see one way? I had, after all, experienced some rude disillusionments after ending certain relationships and realizing that the person I was in love with was not the person I idealized at all.
Orhan Pamuk says that reading a good book feels like reading yourself and maybe that’s what I’ve been doing — reading myself into my lovers until they become much less intricate as they actually are. I’m not learning anything from that, I’m just repeating the same tired steps: flirt, date, love (sometimes), break-up, repeat.
When I read, I don’t want to be placated. I want to be educated. If I wanted to see things the same way forever and never expand my understanding, I would be saving a lot of money on college. That’s why my friend group is so diverse — I like the distinctive perspectives.
My date was right, Kindles are better. Kindles are an ideal — the ultimate acceptance of the multiplicity of another and in oneself, a supreme intimacy unachievable by even the most complicated novels. Some of those singular versions are worth cherishing simply for what they say about who I was when I read them. Starting off by viewing my lover as a book rather than a Kindle is a lens allowed me to reevaluate my own identity in a nutshell, where I stand at that particular time. It’s a heuristic I can and must expand upon, to really connect with myself or anyone else. And I have to start somewhere.
Rica Maestas is a senior majoring in cognitive science and narrative studies. Her column, “Cuffing Season,” runs on Wednesdays.