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Luddite Agonizes Over Choosing Books for a Hike


77598099_8c7672ce9b_oWriting 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

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dave July 13, 2016 um 1:43 pm

Waste wouldn’t be my term, I’m torn between anal & moronic 😉

Mark Williams – The International Indie Author July 13, 2016 um 1:47 pm

I can see his point, although his solution is quite bizarre. Why not just post a whole book to himself?

As a seasoned traveller I would not risk relying on my Kindle as my sole reading option,a and least of all on a hiking trip where presumably options to re-charge and connect to wi-fi to re-set is need be will be few and far between.

It takes a lot less carelessness than dropping a Kindle off a cliff to render it useless. Hiking presumably would involve packing a lot into a small space, and that could put fatal pressure on an e-reader screen.

Using a Kindle at home at the desk, in an armchair or in bed is unlikely to put it at risk. Taking a Kindle on a hike, a beach-trip or other outdoor activity for a month is a different matter altogether, and enough to justify his concerns, if not his solution.

Angela Korra’ti (Angela Highland) July 13, 2016 um 2:32 pm

I’m not going to critique somebody for their choice of reading format either, but I gotta look askance at any solution that involves destroying books and then burning the remnants. o.O That seems wasteful, not to mention expensive if it turns out it’s a book you actually liked well enough that you want to keep it in your personal library!

Cutting off your nose to spite your face – July 13, 2016 um 3:45 pm

[…] said, I gotta raise an eyebrow at this post on The Digital Reader, which is in turn pointing off to this post on the Powell’s Books blog, in which the author […]

Where Can I Pick Up A Yellow Pages Book | Top Great Tips July 13, 2016 um 7:03 pm

[…] Luddite Agonizes Over Choosing Books for a Hike – 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 … […]

Moriah July 13, 2016 um 11:26 pm

I thought the denouement was going to be that he used the pages for toilet paper.

I would have the same concerns about chargeability, although there are gadgets that will charge with sun and fire. If he had a phone, though (which I don’t know), then I don’t get the point of packing paper.

Nate Hoffelder July 14, 2016 um 6:33 am

Or, since he goes into towns on a regular basis, he could charge the gadgets then.

DavidW July 14, 2016 um 12:38 am

You can’t take a kindle on a 2,000 mile hike due to the risk of being damaged or run out of battery.

That being said he did not need to pack for reading for the entire trip. There are nearby towns the whole time. Go into town pick up some more reading material, sell or donate the ones that you’re done with.

DavidW July 14, 2016 um 11:31 am

I thought more about it, and I’m sure the author knows this. I doubt that he packed enough food and water for the entire hike. It would have broken his back. He obviously had planned to make stops in towns along the way to resupply. The problem is that unlike other hikers he is extraordinarily picky about what he brings to read. And if there are water stations or camp grounds along the way probably have book exchanges too. I’m just saying…

Nate Hoffelder July 14, 2016 um 1:20 pm

You’re probably right about the book swap locations, and that raises another point.

Why didn’t he trade books rather than destroy them?

Fjtorres July 14, 2016 um 3:39 pm

For the same reason he is bragging about it online, most likely: conspicuous consumption.
"Hey, I can afford long hiking vacations."
"I can afford to buy books just to tear them up,mail them around the country, and then burn them."

How is what he did any different than lighting a cigar with a $50 bill?

He is clearly spending more in his luddite way than it would cost to buy an old, used (and thus disposable) ereader and a phone charging battery.

He’s bragging.
Ignore him and move on.

Say, to KKR’s new column.
Or to all the Emmy nominations going to Amazon exclusive shows.

Nate Hoffelder July 14, 2016 um 3:52 pm

It’s showing off, yes, but of a different sort. Honestly, I think it’s less wealth than boasting about the books he read.

miriam July 15, 2016 um 10:00 am

I believe in live and let live, too, and even if I don’t agree with this hiker’s solutions, I share his concerns.

Anyone who loves wilderness hiking treasures the sense of closeness to the elements, and of the cut-off-ness that forces you to live in the here and now.

Maybe the solution is to take one print book that one enjoys rereading. Or restocking on reading matter, as someone said. Or getting an old reading device not connected to the Internet.

Just as long as you can call for help in an emergency.

BTW the print book that we all know IS a codex.

Heather July 19, 2016 um 8:28 pm

Oh, please. He didn’t use the Gutenberg Bible to start his campfire. He said they were "tattered old paperbacks." I realize many people think all books are sacred objects, but they’re not — and I’m a librarian. It’s the ideas that may or may not be sacred. He spends a lot more time discussing those. It seems you have missed the forest for the trees.

As he says, on an AT hike, "a lighter pack is bliss." In 2009, when he took his hike, e-readers were a lot bigger, clunkier and pricier. He was neither the first nor the last to burn/wipe with/toss the pages he’s finished.

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