Death in Nostalgia City

By Mark S. Bacon

But can your Kindle or Nook do this?

Second of two parts

A memory-filled meander through an airport bookstore last week prompted some comparisons between e-books and the real thing.  I also discovered that English provides few ways to distinguish a book that’s printed on paper versus one that’s contained in a digital file.  Are they both simply books?  More about that in a later entry.  For now, here are a few other shortcomings of reading electronically:

Buying or making bookmarks  Gift shops, bookstores, tourist attractions and other places still sell bookmarks.  They’re not nearly as efficient as their automated counterparts that let you stop reading an e-book in your e-reader and pick it up in the same spot, days later, on your computer or tablet.   But then electronic bookmarks are not tangible.

My small collection of bookmarks includes one with a reproduction of Ecstasy (a painting by American artist Maxfield Parrish), another containing a brief history of San Francisco’s Ferry Building and one courtesy of my alma mater, UNLV.  Ribbons are good bookmarks, but my favorites are ones I’ve made by laminating cartoon strips.   They’re just the right size for paperbacks or larger books, and they make me smile.

(One of my favorite cartoon bookmarks is from the Wizard of Id.  The wizard complains to his wife that as he gets older he keeps repeating himself.  His wife tells him not to worry because no one listens to old people anyway.)

Airline boarding passes, before they became electronic, made dandy bookmarks and I have often simply used bookstore cash register receipts to save my place in a book.   Recently I read a book I’d purchased some years before.  Inside, I found the receipt–dated 2002.  Obviously that book had been sitting on my shelf longer than I realized.

Sometimes to make a bookmark I will reach for whatever’s handy, a torn strip from a magazine, a corner of a newspaper page, a pencil or even a sheet of toilet paper.

A final form of bookmark, popular in years past–now often associated only with scripture or with fancy leather editions of classics–is the bound-in ribbon.  I recently bought a faux leather-bound collection of mystery short stories (to be reviewed in an upcoming blog entry) with a long, slender ribbon attached.  Handy.

Dog-ears  In addition to the often-heard prohibition regarding writing in a book, dog-earing a page is another bibliographic sin.  And perhaps it should be.  Pages in books printed on inexpensive paper or in ancient paperbacks may break off if they’re folded.  Better quality paper can withstand folding and straightening.

Dog-earing is useful, however, to identify locations within a book, sometimes a page on which you’ve highlighted or annotated (thus compounding your sin). To save the corners of pages, I used to tear Post-it notes into strips to create crude tabs in a book, then someone invented the convenient little self-adhesive plastic tabs you can stick on.

The latest generation Kindle automatically saves your place when you turn off the reader, but also allows you to make bookmarks–or more accurately place savers–throughout an e-book simply by touching the upper right corner of the screen.   A tiny electronic symbol, looking like a book page folded over, appears in the corner.  So, in a sense, you can dog-ear a page in an e-book.

One characteristic of some books–that thankfully has not been synthesized in e-books–is the deckle edge.  More than a century ago this uneven, textured edge of pages used to be a common byproduct of papermaking.  Now it’s used to give a book literary airs.  Put a deckle edge and a thicker than normal cover on a trade paperback and voila, you have classic in the making, a $20+ pricetag and a book that’s far less accessible or useful because you can’t riffle it.

Finally, a row of e-readers is not very decorative on a bookshelf, and you can’t press flowers in a Kindle.

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