Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | August 17, 2013

My Nook, the Soulless Wonder

Nook-hand_270x374My Nook e-reader just isn’t cutting it.  I’m no stodgy traditionalist who refuses to give up the feel of the paper and the smell of the ink – I’ve had my Nook for 2 years now and have read lots of books on it.  And I figured out pretty quickly what kinds of things I could enjoy electronically and which things I couldn’t . . . or at least I thought I did.  Now I’m finding the list of what I’ll buy on my Nook is getting smaller and smaller.  I wonder if anyone else has come to the same conclusion.

imagesFirst off, I knew right away I wasn’t going to be purchasing books of poetry on my Nook.  Not that there’s much poetry available if I wanted to, and that’s due to the problems with formatting poetry for the e-reader page.  Poems are little works of art, after all, and their shape is a part of their sensibility.  I have trouble posting poems on this website, as the commands for creating margins and spacing don’t allow for indenting or single spacing, and I’m forced to insert a dash to create a stanza break.  These kinds of auto-corrects drive poets crazy.  Publishers understand that, I guess.

13406.WIRED.CrtnMnPgSecond, I learned pretty quickly that magazines on my Nook go unread.   When e-readers first came out, there were amazing deals on electronic subscriptions.  I got the New Yorker for just $1.99 a month for a whole year!  True, each one disappeared when the new one arrived, but still, I thought – this was an incredible deal.  Until I realized it wasn’t, because I wasn’t reading it.  With magazines, if the paper copy isn’t sitting on some table in my house, I don’t think about it.  The same has happened with Newsweek:  the issues are piling up in a folder in my email, and I haven’t read a one.  Though at least the online magazines include full-color photos and well-constructed pages.  On the Nook, a magazine is a maddening, dull affair.  Magazines are meant for browsing!  You should be able to flip forward and backward in the pages, stopping at whatever catches your eye.  But on the Nook, you must turn each page in order, from start to finish:  click, click, click.  This means it takes about a minute and a half just to get to the Table of Contents in the New Yorker.  And once you reach an article that looks interesting, you have no idea if you can finish it over lunch, since you can’t flip ahead easily to see how long it is.  Worst of all, you can’t skip over the ads.  Click, click, click – you must page through them all.  No thank you.

wolf-hall1I also eventually ruled out long and complex books, the kind you need to page back and forth in, to check up on a character’s name or her relationships to other characters.  I knew I was doomed at the start of Mantel’s Wolf Hall when I saw the initial pages contained eight lists of family names and three family trees.  Nooks don’t allow you to keep flipping back at will, or to keep your left index finger planted at page xvii while you plow on ahead.  No, Wolf Hall had to be in paper.  Most non-fiction books are the same – they encourage us to mosey back and forth, re-reading a section, checking an endnote, or cross referencing ideas, not to mention annotating the pages as we read.

So, I thought, most novels – save big and fat historical fiction types – would be fine in electronic format.  And I’ve read several over the last two years . . . and I’ve been left with a strange coldness every time.  Books that I should love – that should infuse me with that after-reading aura, that place where you still have one foot in their fictional world for several hours or even days – don’t do that to me when I click to the final page on the Nook screen and turn the device off.  I don’t sit and cradle the Nook for a few moments as I slowly re-emerge into the presence of my own life.  When I finish a marvelous paper book, I do.

10032672Even while I’m in the midst of a captivating book, such as Louise Erdrich’s The Round House or Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers, there is a distancing caused by the screen and the constant clicking that simply doesn’t let me feel completely immersed in the story.  Maybe it’s that I’m not able to see the sum of pages in my hands or to sense and scan their numbers as I work my way to each story’s end, or to catch sight of a previous passage or simply know it’s there at the flick of a finger.  Maybe it’s that I am denied seeing the full-size and full-color jacket on the book.  When you think of favorite books, can’t you still see their covers in your mind’s eye?  Or their spines lining your shelves in all their marvelous array and thicknesses?  Or maybe it’s that the font styles are all identical on the Nook.  In paper versions, publishers vary fonts slightly, giving stories a subtle tone even with the thinness or serif size of the lettering.  When the Nook is turned on, all books are identical.  When it’s turned off, all you have is the flat, white device lying generically on your table.

The Nook seems to disembody each story, fragmenting it, making it seem that I am only allowed to see one small square of text at a time – and that the rest of the story is locked away in a place denied to me.  Each book becomes a soulless series of black and white screens.  Even if I try to imagine the text as a wee, tiny book inside a microchip and embedded within the Nook, I can’t summon the feeling of the story’s wholeness the way I can when I read a paper novel.  Sadly, Victoria Jones never quite came to life for me the way I know she would have if I’d held Diffenbaugh’s novel in my hands, and for that, I feel like I’ve been cheated.

14852063-rainforest-trees-at-tropical-rain-forest-cape-tribulation-in-queensland-australia-lush-jungle-with-fI know books require the chopping down of trees.  We book lovers must take some of the blame for the depletion of the rainforests – guilty as charged.  Even when I write, I start with a yellow legal pad and pen, then transfer the words onto my computer.   I’m a stickler for recycling, though, and I try to offset my carbon footprint in other ways to make up for my love of paper – with canvas bags at the grocery store, re-usable aluminum water bottles, and care taken with my use of water, electricity, and gasoline.

0451209699But at this point, there’s only one basic type of book that I’ll buy on my Nook:  the plot-driven, easy-to-read fiction.  Beach and vacation reads.  Best sellers.  Dan Brown, Sara Paretsky, or anything along the lines of The Hunger Games.  And I guess that’s okay, since any e-book I buy is one less book that required paper and ink to make.

For lovers of the written word, those of us who believe that some poetry and stories are remarkable, magical, and maybe even sacred, the experience of reading must be done in the way that will honor the words and allow for the richest response possible.  And that, I contend, requires a complete paper book in my lap.


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