Half & Half

In commenting on the photo of sliced up copy of A Suitable Boy, at Book Bench Thessaly La Force writes:

A colleague of mine once tried to read Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy.” Finding it too heavy for travel, she tore the book apart. Some might say, “sacrilege,” but I say, “practical.”

Why would you ever have to tear a book apart? Put it in your backpack if you can’t fit it in your suitcase. Or take it with you in your carry-on travel bag.

I can't imagine ever wanting or needing to tear a book apart. If you had a hardback copy of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest and no room in your suitcase or backpack for it, would you slice it down the middle? Why the middle? You’d probably need to slice that tome into tenths.

If you had a 1,000 year old beautifully translated version of War and Peace that you had no room in your suitcase or backpack for, would you slice it down the middle?

I used to know someone who would tear the pages out of a book once she had finished a page. She did that to avoid marking her place in the book with a bookmark. What a booklover she was!

Of course, I only saw her do that when she was reading cheap paperback novels. Since I never saw her reading David Foster Wallace or Leo Tolstoy, I doubt if she ever had need for anything as humdrum as a bookmark.

Books are treasures the most treasured of all treasures. They are sacred. From one who values books and devotes much of their life to them now, I can’t imagine cutting one into separate portions, paperback or hardback, practical or not.

The heaviness of books is often given as a reason to favor the Kindle and others electronic readers like it. An electronic version of Infinite Jest would fit right into your coat pocket or purse. But the Kindle is not a book, although it might be argued it provides the same message as a book does.

But the reading experience is altogether different. And for those of us raised before the digital age, reading always meant more than the message. It also involved the mode of delivery and the situation in which it was delivered--the typeface, the cover, the paper, the size of the book, the binding, etc.