Yes, I have a Kindle. Yes, I have an iPad. And of course reading a book on a Kindle can be more practical, especially if it’s the hardback of, say, Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote or Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, both of which could be categorized as door-stoppers. And yes to read magazines with images on my iPad is like having a backlit light box, colours as luminous as a Medieval manuscript. And both the Kindle and iPad are a pleasant size. But there’s something beyond fingertips, beyond the soft swiping, caressing motion.
What is it about the weight of a book? Of going beyond the abstract tally of how many pages compared to feeling the weight in one’s hands. My whole hand and wrist, not only my fingertips. The difference between Murakami’s 1Q84: Books One and Two and Truman Capote’s novella-length Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or the recent Penguin Great Ideas series which, in its bite-size format, adds size to weight and brevity. Compared them to, say, Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Paintings (Pietro C. Marani) for which I need a solid table or desk as support. Definitely not for reading in the bath, that one. Mind you, I never use my Kindle or iPad in the bath either.
I find myself experimenting. Can I pick up the Leonardo da Vinci with one hand? Nope, need both hands and am reminded of how strong our lower arms are. I can, though, slip Great Ideas paperbacks – I pluck Machiavelli’s On Conspiracies and Charles Dickens’ Night Walks from my shelves – into my raincoat pockets.
Then, reaching down to a stack of ‘gotta read or reread soon, very soon’ books on the occasional table nestled in the corner next to a sofa, I check out what size of book I could tuck under my arm. Paperback much better than hardback, I discover.
While remembering my teenage days of aiming for good posture, I test out which is best for placing and balancing atop my head.
As for covers, long before I focus on the design images, my fingertips register the texture. Cardboard smooth or glossy sheen smooth? The linen of a back issue of McSweeney’s; the hint of a velvety texture and slightly raised lettering of Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary.
And this territory of texture leads me to riffle pages. Some paper is crisp, other paper almost flimsy thin. Once again, though, size and shape enters.
It’s Valerie Preston-Dunlop and Ana Sanchez-Colberg’s dance and the performative. Not a particularly thick paperback but with a wider format and quality- weight paper, I tilt it upright, cupping its spine in my hand and I especially like to riffle these pages, doing it over and over, revelling in it. There are dance photographs interspersed with the text and it’s as if I’m creating my very own flip-book performance. I’m reminded of Norman McLaren’s Pas de Deux. I’ve not thought of it in years and I’m sure it’s online and I’ll be able to watch it in its full glory on my iPad. Later, though. After I finish my own self-created performance. Only then.
Of course I wouldn’t give up my iPad and Kindle. But neither do I want to abandon the physicality of a book. The physicality – all that I engage with, all that I surmise, all well before I read the pages within.
Mary Ann Hushlack is the Dramaturg for Reading with Bach and Lizzi Kew Ross an Co. Associate Artist