Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
The other day I mentioned in my post about how you can pre-order the ebook of Town Father right this minute that I’m beginning to reconsider ebooks as something I want to keep buying. It’s not that I wouldn’t pick one up to support a fellow indie or even to grab something on sale by a well-known scribe, like maybe that new Jonathan Franzen joint. But I’ll confess right here right now that I don’t read as much as I used to and I definitely write a lot more than I read.
I keep up with the news online, and I hit a couple of magazines I’m fond of (one of them is Downbeat, the sturdy old jazz rag), but I find I’m getting away from fiction in my limited reading in favor of non-fiction and philosophy/science/history. This is because so much new, traditionally published fiction tends to piss me off, for possibly obvious reasons. But when I do read something newish that’s in my ilk, I realize now that I wish I had a copy on my shelf. Last year’s The Flamethrowers would be nice to see there. David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet I’d like to see on a regular basis. A couple of books by Jim Crace stick with me and I wish I had them on hand. The remarkable Heidi Julavits would be great on my ‘case. Instead they’re all interred in my Kindle. It’s dark in there.
When the paperback of Town Father arrived here at home, I held it in my hands and flipped through its satisfying pages, understanding that it is not just an array of e-ink patterns on a screen. It’s an object. It’s a thing. For me, obviously, it has a long and convoluted history, having grown from a few vague notions to a sketch or two, all the way to a fully realized novel. Being able to handle it is very very special. Seeing it on my own bookshelf — particularly seeing it next to Occasional Soulmates and Parts Unknown — makes me feel like I’ve actually made something, and something valuable at that.
When I review the books I’ve shlepped around with me for forty years, as I went around from town to town, country to country, I relive my life. I see a collection of seven or eight volumes of Chekhov’s stories (the Ecco Press editions) and I recall my early fascination with his narrative finesse, understanding as I read them at the time that I was being influenced by him. And I have two collections by Donald Barthelme that always remind me not to be too predictable, too mainstream, or I’ll risk becoming complacent in my work. I also have very close to me a number of Thomas Hardy novels that I bought when I went to school in England one year, and traveled to Dorset and walked some of the lanes Hardy must have walked.
You get the point. These volumes speak volumes.
I’m wondering lately whether ebooks might eventually become something unto themselves, something special as distinguished from physical books. Maybe they could be narratives with multiple levels or outcomes, or they could be laced with images or sounds that paper books can’t accommodate. I don’t know. But right now, as I sit here with almost as many books in my Kindle and Nook as are on my shelves, I find I’m sentimental only about the ones I still have to dust from time to time.