On p. 4 of Carlos Ruiz’s beautiful novel, The Shadow and The Wind, (Penguin, 2005), he writes, “I was raised among books, making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day.”
What will our sensory memories be of books in the digital era? As I sniff my Kindle, I only get a sense of something blocking air, a plastic odor, like a straw that you've been biting on. Despite the dust-free, mold-free benefits of ebooks, will there be a loss for us?
My mother wasn't a reader, but she was a buyer of books. She bought me a set of Childcraft. Remember their deep read leatherette covers? My volume one (Nursery Rhymes) and my volume two (Fairy Tales) had loose bindings and the edges of the cover were no longer perfect rectangles because I read them over and over. Also, I read Golden Books like Nurse Nancy and Doctor Dan. Yes, I know, I know they are politically incorrect, but there were real bandaids between the covers. Ebooks can't give you bandaids.
My mother bought old books, small leather volumes like Tanglewood Tales and The Last Days of Pompeii and kept them in boxes in the basement. Whenever we had floods, she'd lovingly take the books out, put paper towels between their damp pages, go over them with hair dryers, anything to save them. (If only she'd read them.) But never mind, it shows the love and respect for books, the physicality of them, the weight in your hands.
In the arts section of the NYT, I read that during the holidays people flocked to the bookstore, never mind ebooks. Maybe all our sensual memories of books will be mixed with the scent of pine needles or latkes. A gift from the holidays.