Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


E-readership and expatery

Random House Ency

It was a beautiful book.

In college, a guy I was dating bumped my bookcase really hard, dislodging the Random House Encyclopedia my brother had given me for Christmas in 1990. It weighed 11 pounds and landed squarely in the middle of the guy’s forehead. I ran over immediately and picked the book off the ground, running my hands over its surface to check for damage.

“You ripped it!” I accused him, as the dust jacket was partially damaged. “I’m bleeding” he responded, and he was, but I shot back, “You’ll heal but the book will be ruined forever.”

The moral of this story is that I like books more than people. These are my bona fides which is why you should take me seriously when I say that, if you like to read, you should get an e-reader. Second only to the iPod in the list of Things Which Made My Life Better, an e-reader has meant that I can read more, both quantity and variety, in a way more convenient way. As someone who generally has four or five books going at once, being able to carry them all with me all the time is among the best things ever.

This being said, I still love books, but as an itinerant person, I can’t justify carting physical copies of stuff around with me. Now I only keep books that I use as reference materials, like dictionaries or history texts, or ones that are my absolute favorites (of which I have plenty, thankyouverymuch). All the other stuff I read doesn’t need to follow me around for the rest of my life, nor would I want it to, considering that I will read almost anything (except poetry and short stories). I really love fiction, but the vast majority of novels I read never need to be revisited again, so why keep them? Better yet, if I do need to pull a quote or an idea from one, all I have to do is search the whole text. It’s the best of both worlds.

And to be honest, I still remember when I was leaving the US in 2005 and I took a lot of my books, including that beloved, slightly torn RH Encyclopedia, to sell at a second-hand book store in DC. The guy at the counter didn’t care that I’d loved those books, had carted them over a thousand miles to five different addresses, had caressed their spines sometimes as I walked past them. He just saw piles of stuff they could maybe sell and other stuff they couldn’t. The titles he kept he put away behind him and when I walked out, feeling like I’d abandoned my children, I looked back and saw them there, all out of order, not snuggled between their similarly themed brethren, and I was so sad.

Today’s lesson: if you like reading, get an e-reader. They are perfectly adequate at providing many of the pleasures of reading with few of the drawbacks. If you like books, don’t be a nomadic expat.

→ Author Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale) has a few good reasons for keeping physical books, all of which are totally valid and which (I hope) are supported by what I say above.

→ My version of hell is either some place filled with god damn hippies and their non-stop Grateful Dead music, or ending up like Burgess Meredith in The Twilight Zone episode (“Time Enough at Last“) with the library. The former would certainly be more torturous in a Prometheus-y way, but the latter would just be tragic and cruel.

Random thing

Two things finally pushed me to get an e-reader in 2008. The first was the realization that, considering all the books I had to carry with me every day in my capacity as a private English teacher, I couldn’t really justify the added weight to my bag for something that was just for my pleasure. The second was watching a teenage girl sitting opposite me on the bus finish one of the Twiglet books, sigh contentedly to herself, and then pull out the next one. She was carrying over 1200 pages of books with her! I was pissed because, despite those books being genuinely terrible, I was ashamed that she was a more dedicated reader than I’d become. And that just could not continue.