One of my favorite things to do is wander around used bookstores, filtering through the collections that have their own mysterious stories to tell. In the age of electronic literature, I’m beginning to feel as outdated as some of the centuries old memoirs in these shops. Students on campus purchase ebooks and ‘vooks,’ and yet I sense that all this new technology looses something in translation–or rather digitization. I love the smell of an old book, the way the corners of the pages crinkle, the feel of its weight in my hand. But paramount, it’s these tangible books that turn authors into old friends in a way I just cannot imagine an online text could. My oldest and dearest such friend is Kurt Vonnegut Jr. You probably know him too.
Now I only allow myself one of his stories a year. I will be terribly disappointed when I’ve read every one and will probably begin again when the time comes. He weaves a special magic between an otherwise ordinary jacket using simple words to convey something profound. He turns ideas over and creates characters that are both ordinary and extraordinary. Put simply, my love of Vonnegut will endure as long as I do. So it goes.
Together, we shared the past weekend on Cold Mountain (yes, there is such a place). It was my first time away from work in I don’t know how long. Under the October sky, he told me the story of Howard W. Campbell Jr. in Mother Night. There is perhaps no greater pleasure in the world than getting lost in the pages of a good book. Real pages. The kind that turn and bend, fold and tear. Those that envelop you into the story. I hope such books persist. For as long as they survive, the old friends who composed them live on as well.