To Turn the Page or To Swipe It? Reflections from Lam


I am one of about a billion people that recently read Donna Tartt’s newest novel, The Goldfinch. I could go on and on about the book, about how I spent an entire pajama-ed day hiding from my family so that I could race to the finish. How I marveled over the characterization of Boris, the entire scenario so gorgeously wrong that my psyche was unable to choose between wanting to provide that boy a proper mother and regressing completely, allowing myself to crush out on his irresistible, drug-addled self and his charmingly broken English. Then a recent column on the back page of the New York Times Sunday Book Review made me ponder The Goldfinch for completely different reasons. To Kindle or not to Kindle is the subject of the article, the opposing viewpoints offering the delights of the e-book (so portable!) and the drawbacks (what can you tell voyeuristically about a person if you can’t see what they’re reading?). I thought about my own e-book use (which has risen) and how many tons of books we regularly lug home from both Elliott Bay (my closest indie) and Powell’s in Portland (a vacation destination in itself). Other than noting that I ought to dig out my library card so I can one day afford to send my children to college, I created my own pro-con list related to reading The Goldfinch in e-book form.

Pro My physical therapist was enormously pleased that I read that behemoth on my e-reading device. Since she can’t convince me not to read in bed, at least I wasn’t straining my neck to read those 784 pages.

Con When I clicked, I had no idea I had ordered a 784-page book! I don’t have to time to read novels of this length. I wouldn’t have bought in on a whim, but saved it for a long train ride, or a vacation. Or would I have?

Pro Instant satisfaction. After a breakfast discussion with two Girls Friday whose literary tastes I admire, I promptly went home and ordered myself up a Tartt. Who knows when I would have made it to the bookstore, and by then my passion may have waned, robbing myself of enjoying a book I so admired.

Con Okay, two cons. The book has at its center an object, a three-dimensional work of art carefully wrapped and preserved and fetishized and coveted and . . . (I won’t give it away). So you can imagine I felt almost dirty reading that book electronically. Also, I admire the cover. I really, really want to set that sucker in my office and gaze upon it. It has nice paper stock, too.

Pro Electronic devices provide a clickable entree into the author’s oeuvre that shouldn’t be discounted. Now that “binge” is used mostly as a verb in relation to things like Homeland, I can’t say that it’s a terrible thing to have people binging on authors and their work. (Just to be clear: no one is dissing Homeland here. Binge! Binge!)

Con The inability to loan. After I had sufficiently evangelized around the office, Girl Friday Andrea asked to borrow my copy. Sadly, I had to answer in the negative. I couldn’t even place it on the Girl Friday Office Library Lending Shelf. There is a shared intimacy in loaning, and then returning, and then discussing a treasured book. Win-Win In the end, maybe most everyone got something they needed (except Andrea). Amazon got their dough when I clicked on that cover. I also went to Elliott Bay and bought my father-in-law a hardcover copy for Christmas, fetishistically caressing the paper before passing it on. Donna Tartt sold two copies of her book to one reader. And still I gaze upon that tiny goldfinch every time I power up my Kindle, a reminder of the most important thing of all: a brilliantly written novel and the joy it gave me.