Luddite Agonizes Over Choosing Books for a Hike
Writing on the Powell’s Books blog about a months-long hiking trip, Robert Moor reports on how he agonized over how to bring reading material on the trip.
The problem, of course, is that paper — when bound into brick-like stacks — is surprisingly heavy. All the same, I was reluctant to trade it in for an electric gadget. Hiking has always renewed my appreciation for the paper book, that vampirically ancient-yet-forever-young technology, born of the codex, the scroll, and the graven tablet. Even as ebooks and audiobooks and other forms of electronic literature have filled in new, unforeseen niches in my literary diet, the paper book remains my first choice for deep reading. Especially in the outdoors, I love it for its wonderful compaction, its flexibility, its simplicity, its lack of batteries to recharge and Internet to check. A book, moreover, is a low-stress possession: if it gets wet, its pages might dimple, but it will never fry its own circuit board. I truly doubt I will see an improvement upon it in my lifetime. You can drop a book off a cliff, and in all likelihood it would flap down to earth like a lame — but intact — dove. Try doing that with a Kindle.
I don’t know about you, but I (and most adults for that matter) have no trouble with properly taking care of my electronics.
But that’s too much for Moor, so instead he limited hs reading material to only the parts of books we was reading at the time.
Eventually, I hacked together a solution: I would buy tattered old paperbacks I’d always meant to read, slice them apart into smaller, novella-length volumes, and then re-tape the spines. I boxed these books up with a bunch of dried food and mailed them to post offices along the trail, where I would later pick them up. It was, in effect, an act of retroactive serialization.
Later, on the trail, I discovered that paper books had an additional use I’d never considered before: once I had finished reading a chapter, I could tear it out and use the pages to start a campfire. This way, the books became lighter day by day, until all that was left was the final page.
As a rule, I don’t comment on reading habits. It doesn’t matter to me whether you read on paper or digital, and I have in fact been known to read whichever format is handy or cheapest.
But I decided to make an exception here, because I wanted to ask a question. Is that really a better option than packing along an ereader, and the thousands of books it could carry?
It strikes me as a terribly inconvenient last ditch effort to avoid using the best format for this situation. eBooks are ideal for situations where weight is a problem, and yet Moor would rather limit his reading selection and rip apart paper books.
Is it just me, or is that a waste?
image by Alvy