If you like books, if you like to read, you need a copy of Anne Fadiman’s “Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader.” You especially need to read it if you care an iota about identity management, because the major themes in her essays are not only about books, but about identity. (In case you’re wondering, yes, she’s the daughter of Clifton and Annalee.)
The first major theme is about mixing books in a relationship. She opens Ex Libris with:
A few months ago, my husband and I decided to mix our books together. We had known each other for ten years, lived together for six, been married for five….
Sharing a bed and future was child’s play compared to sharing my copy of The Complete Poems of W. B. Yeats, from which I had once read “Under Ben Bulben” aloud while standing at Yeats’s grace in Drumcliff churchyard, or George’s copy of T. S. Eliot’s Selected Poems, given to him in the ninth grade by his best friend, Rob Farnsworth, who inscribed it “Best Wishes from Gerry Cheevers….”
George is a lumper. I am a splitter. His books commingled democratically, united under the all-inclusive flag of Literature…. Mine were balkanized by nationality and subject matter….
If you are charmed, you must by this book. I’ve omitted some of the funniest lines. If you doubt me, check Amazon as these pages are included in their peek inside.
The other important theme in her book is the difference between people who think that books are objects and people who think that books are information. People who think that books are objects shudder at the thought of writing in them, dogearing page corners, etc. I’m sure you can guess where George and Anne lie.
I am especially amused by this because I, too, have had the problem of co-mingling libraries. I’ve been divorced, and dividing the library was a horror. The horror; nothing else was that hard. It was such a horror that I flipped from being someone who views books as objects to one who views them as information.
Books can be replaced. Really. I’ve done it. The archaeologists of future civilizations will not sigh in a lament because they’re missing the one issue of National Geographic or Cook’s Illustrated that you threw out. Truly. Trust me on that.
My last spouse, however, is someone who firmly believes that books are objects. I understand some of this. She collects antique children’s books. I have a first edition of The Hunting of the Snark (a possession that I can blame Ms. Fadiman’s father for, with Martin Gardner as an accessory before, during, and after the fact). Yet that admission also proves that I’m not that sort of person. My present condition of loving information rather than objects is some sort of Laingian adaptation, I suppose. I understand books just the way that Thomas Mendip understands names.
She lusts after a Kindle. Not Ms. Fadiman, my spouse. It’s something I find amusing, because I’m inclined to get her one because the savings in floor space alone amortizes its value out in the first month. In California, floor space is a valuable asset if you’re a bibliophile. She is someone who screams, “Nooooooooooo!” if I suggest that we get rid of a crap novel we agree is crap and yet she is willing to convert from paper you own to bits on loan. Even if our house is Alexandria, future generations would thank their ancestors for the culling if they only knew, of course, which they couldn’t. Nonetheless, she desires a Kindle.
Worse, a friend brought one into work today, and I’d like one, too. I’ve downloaded the Kindle app to my iPod. The problem that remains is the problem I complained about in Identity Manglement last fall. What account should we buy the books under?
An elegant part of the Kindle is that if you have more than one, they sync their books, and even the bookmarks. If you have the iPod app, that syncs, too. It’s brilliant.
I have friends who are already a multi-Kindle household. The system works well, but you can’t have two accounts pointing to one Kindle if you want to share books. There are ways, I am told, to work around this limitation, but I don’t want to work around it. I don’t want to soak the books in a digital solvent that removes the stickiness. I just want to be able to read a book she bought, as if it were a — you know, book.
When it came to music, I had the foresight to create an account that we collectively buy music with. Emusic and iTunes both under the one identity. The community property we own can distribute itself over our laptops and iPods.
But we’ve been buying books from Amazon for ages, each of us. There’s no real problem with taking that email address and giving it the Kindles, but I don’t want to. I want Amazon to understand that there are households where after a lot of thought, after years of agonizing, the books have been merged. They should do that for Kindles, too.
It’s easy enough to do. Please do it. I wonder what Anne Fadiman would do.