Frugal Chariots

There’s this book I’ve had since I was ten, that I only read in the dead of winter, preferably curled up in bed with a cup of tea and snow falling outside my window. Never before Christmas. The pages are brittle and turning yellow around the edges. The cover has started to tear. I’ve read this book, this exact book (and the rest in the series) almost every year for nearly twenty years. Sometimes I’ll recommend the book to someone, but I’ve never had the urge to listen to an audio recording or see a film adaptation. This is a story that has felt intensely personal since the first time I read it–the world I’ve created in my head is a sacred one, that I don’t want to sully with anyone else’s interpretation.

I bought this book at a flea market in Oxford, England the summer before my senior year of high school. I’ve read it several times, and it gets funnier and more profound as I get older. More importantly I bought that book the same day as my first Radiohead concert, the day I met my friend Tom, and every time I look at it I think of that wonderful day, that perfect summer, and the friendship that bloomed out of it.

So while, as a voracious reader, I see the pragmatic appeal of an ipad or kindle or what have you, I find it hard to believe I’ll ever own one. Now, I said the same thing about an ipod, and when mine broke, I felt like I lost a limb. But there’s a sentimental attachment I have to books as objects and the sensuality of reading them that make me loath to trade them in for a flat, sterile piece of hardware, no matter how many 500-page tomes it might be able to hold.

My brother argued that you can make the same point about records, but I think the crucial difference is how music is experienced versus literature. Ultimately, reading is a private act–you can discuss a book, you can write reviews and doctoral theses, but the experience of reading something is uniquely yours. However faulty the logic may be, to me the book is what it holds, whereas the record or cd or mp3 file is simply a vehicle for the thing.

This isn’t to say that people don’t have personal connections to music–I’m the first one to start in on how Morrissey shares my pain, etc–but a lot of the time, at least for me, music is more about the collective experience. You send songs to your friends, listen to music at dinner or a party, go to concerts. I love music more than almost anything, but nothing gets inside me like a good book, which is intrinsically tied into the smell of old glue and the feel of pages between my fingers, the way my palm curves over the spine of a book I’ve been reading for two decades. It’s the familiarity of an old friend. And as uncharacteristically technophobic and sentimental as it may be, the idea of all that becoming a thing of the past breaks my heart.

Go find that book you loved when you were ten, and tell me that opening the cover doesn’t feel like coming home.


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