Heavy Reading

This is definitely not bathtub-friendly reading.My husband, on his way to the store to pick up NyQuil and ibuprofen and chicken soup, asked, “Do you want anything else? A magazine? How about an InStyle?”

“No thanks,” I said. “Too heavy.”

His eyebrows flared up and he blinked a few times. He took a measured breath before he spoke. “Wow, okay.” But his concerned expression said, You are either much sicker than I thought or your brain has shrunk to the size of a walnut.

“I mean it’s too heavy to hold. In the bathtub,” I said. “It’s unwieldy.” He was visibly relieved, reassured that I did not in fact consider the season’s most daring fashion trends as intellectually demanding as say Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or Coetzee’s Disgrace. (For the record, he returned with a light-as-a-feather People magazine, which cost me almost no energy either to hold or to read.)

Normally, I like a good dense read—emotionally as well as physically, but especially physically. The very weight of a book in my hands is nothing short of textual healing. I love the shape and heft and black-on-white. I love that manifest smell of new and old books: sharp ink and mushrooms, vanilla and mildew, leather and wood. Sure I read articles and occasionally even longer pieces on my computer, but they always leave me a little hollow. (All that flashing marginalia! All those ads!) As such, I resisted for a very long time the incendiary pull of the Kindle Fire I won during a fund-raising drawing for the wonderful literary publisher Graywolf Press more than a year ago. I want the tactile pleasure of flipping and dog-earing pages, not clicking or swiping. And page numbers! Why don’t Kindles use page numbers? I like to be able to measure an impending ending, not have it thrust upon me, unforeseen.

Then my mother lent me her copy of Stephen King’s 880-page 11-22-63. I’d just finished a couple of books that were still gnawing at my soul, and so I wanted something lighter, something fun. This book was certainly fun: a suspenseful romp through a time-traveling portal that catapults the protagonist back to the end of the Eisenhower era so he can prevent Kennedy’s assassination. But light? Not exactly. In fact, it weighs 2.4 lbs and is so fat I can’t hold it in one hand.

So about 14 pages in, I bought the Kindle version. And you know what? It wasn’t so bad after all. I got used to swiping the screen to turn pages, and the odd location identifier that replaces traditional page numbers. I learned that you can click on a word and a definition pops up, or highlight a phrase either to search on the interwebs or return to later. But best of all, I got to soak in the tub, which is where I do most of my reading.

Am I a Kindle convert? Well, no. I concede that my eReader has earned its place on my overcrowded nightstand, but I’ll still probably always choose the real thing over the digital. That is until the next time I get sick. Then if my husband offers to pick up the latest InStyle, I’ll just ask him to download it for me instead.