My Friends: the books

In a recent piece on Tablet magazine, Ann Marlowe imagines what it would be like to walk into someone’s home, and not see any books. What do we end up assuming about that person? For those of us who are readers, do we jump to conclusions about our friends who do not line their living room with bookshelves? Like illicitly rifling through someone’s medicine cabinet, we delight in thumbing through friends’ libraries. It begins conversations, it sparks topics to explore with them over dinner, it tells us what these friends must think about when no one else is around–the sorts of things they occupy their minds with in the quiet moments. The rise in popularity of reading on a Kindle or an iPad affects the spaces in which we live, and it affects the modes in which we relate to other people. 

I’ve noticed this on the T, as well. First, when I took the train to and from school, like getting to see what was on my friends’ bookshelves, I enjoyed seeing what other riders were reading on their commutes. I read so much more when I had commuter time that I could spend reading, and I got many great next-read ideas from the book covers that strangers on the train carried in their hands. As I began to see more and more Kindles during a commute, I felt loss over the exercise of book-cover voyeurism. The ritual of reading is evolving right before our eyes, and for book lovers, that evolution causes growing pains. 

The evolution also affects the way we study. When I sit down with my weekly chevruta, we take out our iPads, click on the app with the book we have recently been working our way through, and begin our learning. I miss the days when we would run our hands over a nice crisp page, feeling the slight textural raise of the ink under our fingers. Yet, I also love that I have an entire library at my fingertips. We find ourselves debating something that involves a particular biblical word or biblical verse. Click, and we have all the examples from other verses that we need as fodder for the argument. Click, and we can see references to other texts we may want to get into. Click, and we have articles outlining various aspects for further discussion. I am nostalgic for a Jewish library that is warm, comfortable, and cozy, and at the same time I love that I have an entire beit midrash and then some in the palm of my hands.

Marlowe wants library spaces to continue, just as I do not want to give up that comfort of the beit midrash. She writes, “A library is a room or a portion of a room set aside for purposes higher than the everyday matter of life, just as a church or synagogue or museum or concert hall is.” For sure, spaces like need to exist in our homes, in our synagogues, and in the other critical venues in which we spend great swaths of time. Just because we are shifting away from the printed page does not diminish our status as the People of the Book. We need the space to perform the ritual of reading. Yet, just as how we are reading is evolving, that space too is bound to evolve.

In our apartment, I have my “magic chair.” It is where I spend a chunk of my Shabbat afternoon. Imagine a large arm chair that sits by the a huge picture window. Next to it is a small table, which is where I usually place the cup of coffee I drink while reading. Whether I’m reading on a Kindle or reading a paper book, one thing is constant: that is my space designated for the ritual of reading. On Shabbat afternoon, I grab a book or I grab my iPad, plop down in the chair, read a few paragraphs, and then promptly fall asleep. 

No matter the device, that is a ritual I’m not changing anytime soon.

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