Can you flatten a roach with an ebook?
Cockroach, Marlene Burns
Until recently, I’d open my copy of Franz Kafka’s Amerika and powdered milk would sift out. I carried that book in my pack for six months through the South Pacific. I also carried a box of Carnation instant milk because, at the age of twenty, I was convinced that such things as milk or toothpaste would be hard to come by. The customs official in Rarotonga thought he was on the verge of a big promotion for busting a drug mule when he peeled open that container of Nalley’s French Onion chip dip, licked his finger, and tasted not coke or smack but baking soda. How I chose Amerika for a trip through the antipodes I don’t know, but that sunburnt book still evokes the sounds and smells of the Suva market, the eighty-foot ketch on which I sailed to New Zealand, and the freighter that took me to Bora Bora.
I recall a copy of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow I packed around Japan, as dense as a brick, with a bronze cover and bible-grade paper. I recall the copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses that I bought from a street vendor in Calcutta. His shop consisted of a waist-high shelf that he shuttered and padlocked each night. I can still feel the heft of that book in my hand, the sound of the pages as I turned them, the folded rupee note secreted between pages 110 and 111.
Not that I’ve anything against e-books and Kindles. Some day I’ll likely buy one and be thoroughly impressed. But can you throw it at the cat or flatten a roach, can you hide things in it, use it as a filing system, or dribble wax onto the back cover and stick a candle on it to enhance the atmosphere of a faraway room and, in those flickering shadows, make love?