Margin Notes For The Fire
December 16, 2008
Reading Alan Jacobs on the Kindle makes me somewhat more reassured that it is not The End Of The World As We Know It. I’d feel even more reassured if I knew Amazon (and all other companies interested in competing, for that matter) would put someone in love with the written word in charge of the line, though I’m not going to hold my breath.
Though I’m adamantly holding out against the Kindle — but then again, I also have my father’s vinyl records and refuse to throw out my old VCR tapes — I admit electronic format does have its uses. There are times I don’t know what I’d do without Amazon “Search Inside” or Google Reader to hunt down certain passages when I’m trying to write a paper. But research and reading are two very different things, and I can’t imagine sitting down for a few hours with something that I’m pretty sure is out of Star Trek.
The biggest impediment — let’s set aside all aesthetic for a moment — has to be the inability to scribble something in the margins. I can’t imagine reading much of anything without jotting down beside a passage, “cf. such-and-such” — whatever it happens to remind me of. Or not having a blank page at the start of “The Waste Land” on which to hastily put down a verse from Leonard Cohen’s “Take This Waltz” because both talk about hyacinths. My marginalia in Absalom, Absalom! has become almost organically integrated to my reading of the book. Faulkner in particular makes me feel compelled to enter into some sort of margin-conversation with the text and its author. Not having a pencil in hand is what makes reading on the screen so distinct from reading on the page for me.
Of course, they’ll come up with some way to fix this. Like how you can write with that pen-tool thing on a PDA. (Or how Kirk scribbled out his signature without looking at — or reading! — the reports he was always being handed.) And here I can’t get away from an aesthetic argument: it just won’t be the same as the feel of pen(cil) on paper.