Though I like the magazine, I’ve never been to an n+1 reading. But I found myself there on a Friday at BookCourt in Brooklyn, listening to a soft-spoken Kristin Dombek read from her essay on “sex, drugs, and Ryan Gosling in Williamsburg.” (At this point, I’ve heard about just enough run-ins with Ryan Gosling to believe that he is not a real person, but rather, a product of the sexual fantasies of New York women.)
Standing under a speaker so I could follow Dombek’s narrative, I observed the crowd. Most of the men sported glasses and stubble. The women, if “alternative,” shared the straight, glossy hair that those without it envy. Even in its hush, the crowd was confident that this, an independent bookstore in Brooklyn, was its territory.
“Hipster culture” has become so amorphous as to include anything that is just not mainstream. And though I believe that passionate print-lovers will keep the business alive, I don’t want that group to become ineffective, albeit well-meaning. (Too often I am convinced that I have already turned into the crotchety 80-year-old I fear becoming.) I want to believe that e-readers will make books more available – to businessmen who travel often, to college students whose backpacks are already too heavy. I just want to know that they will do what they intended – give us books, not games or e-mail or texting – and nothing more.
Since the Kindle was released over five years ago (!), I’ve tried to slow the meshing of technology and academia in my own life. I don’t dislike technology; on the contrary, I’m often so addicted that it’s a struggle to tear myself away from the screen.
But when I do tear myself away, I’m grateful. I re-discover the slow drip of pleasure in reading and wish I didn’t feel validated by Facebook notifications. When I start to miss my physical subscription to the New York Times, I compromise by printing out articles for the train.
Despite how well e-readers mask themselves in “electronic ink,” or progress markers, I find it hard to connect them with the stories I’ve loved since childhood. I want to feel how many pages I have turned – and how many I have left to go. I want to reach a halfway point and watch the pages cleave cleanly in two. I accept the frustration I feel when the thicker part of the book eclipses the few pages I have not read, and both snap shut. I want my bookmark to indicate that not only have I started Moby Dick for the third time since seventh grade, but that I am finally about to finish it.
I used to worry that the only people who would remain devoted to print would be “literary types” who too often become snobbish in their taste. I don’t want to seem elitist in mine, by shunning Kindles – for the first time ever, I borrowed one this fall from a friend, and it felt surprisingly natural. But I was unable to finish it (as “10% read” cruelly reminded) until the same friend saw me linger for months and gave me the physical book for Christmas.
But ultimately, whether on a screen or a page, what matter most are the words. As long as e-books complete their original intent – by giving me books – I’ll trust that Temple Run won’t be appearing somewhere in the background.
– Olivia Loving, Copy Editor