Friday, March 8, 2013


When I was in fourth grade, I read the Chronicles of Narnia. I borrowed them from my teacher, who had all seven books in a paperback box set. Each volume was pretty compact, maybe slightly larger than a smartphone, possibly not even as heavy. Reading C.S. Lewis wasn’t a school assignment, but I wasn’t the only kid in the class who ended up going through the whole series, so it felt like a collective experience; the fact that we were all passing around the same physical books no doubt contributed to that, too. I had been an avid reader before that, but I reckon that Narnia was one of those gateway experiences that led to several of my ongoing addictions, from fantasy trilogies to book collecting. I still have, and presumably always will have, a vast soft spot for Aslan and his subjects.

Last week after I weighed in once again on Stephen King’s Dark Tower, my wife mentioned off-handedly that she might like to check out that magnum opus for herself someday. That would actually make a nice trifecta for me, if you recall the three different series of fantasy novels I resolved to re-read last year: I convinced my wife to read the Kingkiller Chronicles, and now she is anticipating the third and final volume as avidly as I am; I also got my wife hooked on the HBO version of Game of Thrones, and she started reading the Song of Ice and Fire novels they are based on, as well. So to ensnare her in the saga of Roland of Gilead’s ka-tet would round things out prettily.

The snag, though, is one crucial difference between my wife and myself, namely that I love the solid heft of a hardcover book, even a thousand-page doorstop, whereas she finds them intolerably uncomfortable to hold and read. Hence the multiple copies of Kingkiller books in our house, hardbound for me and paperback for her. I could put The Gunslinger in my wife’s hands tonight (or in a short while, as historically the periods where our newborn children have been learning to nurse has always proven to be a good time for my wife to sit quietly and catch up on reading) but it would be my deluxe edition hardcover copy, and that won’t do. Once again, of course, I could just go get second-hand back-up copies. Clearly this is far from an insoluble problem.

But it did get me thinking, about fourth grade, and about how I was the perfect age around then to fall under the spell of Narnia, as were numerous other members of my nine-year-old cohort. And of course our teacher knew that, and it was no accident that she had the box set of the Chronicles in the classroom to begin with. But how many of us would have carried those books home and back again and again if they had taken up the same volume and added the same weight to our backpacks as our math textbooks, instead of slim enough to fit in the seat pockets of our jeans? How many of us would have cracked them open at all with our little pre-adolescent hands?

I don’t often weigh in on the whole e-books versus dead trees debate, because I’m learning to embrace both sides. I admit that I am foolishly enamored of every tactile pleasure of an old-fashioned manuscript, and I take great pleasure in amassing and displaying them. At the same time the numerous benefits and advantages of my Kindle have pretty thoroughly won me over, and I really see no reason not to continue enjoying both for as long as I can, going back and forth between them at will. The only possible control I can have over whether either form persists is continuing to support them both.

Well, almost no reason, but the factor I seem to have overlooked is the social aspect of books and the ability to put them in someone else’s hands and say here, read this. An oversized leatherbound folio of The Hobbit would be a lovely thing, but what would I do if one of my children seemed to be primed to read that story for themselves, right around say third or fourth grade? Do I need to greatly expand my dual-format approach to the home library I’ve appointed myself the keeper of? Or do I need to back off from my hardcover fetish in recognition of the fact that it’s awfully selfish on balance? Or am I once again overthinking something relatively unimportant? (no wait that can’t be right) If it’s the latter, I suppose I’m just selfishly indulging in the freedom to overthink ridiculously minor things just before the new baby comes and all of my voluntary thought processes shut down in survival mode.

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