With the development of the Kindle, iPad and other modern tools used to download books, one has got to wonder about the net effect these will have on hardcopy book sales.
Most of the people I know who own a Kindle have just stopped buying regular books. Why would they do otherwise? Books are bulky, get in the way and serve no purpose for the individual who enjoys carrying around a library in a wafer-thin, 5-by-7-inch piece of machinery.
Others (like me) still enjoy the tactile sense of a real book, examining the cover, dust jacket and whatnot, and then keeping the book on a shelf if it happens to be good enough. What's more, for those who like to collect, it's difficult to find an author who can sign a new, first-edition release of a work that's stored inside a Kindle. He could always sign the Kindle itself, but people would end up thinking it's the author's personal Kindle and that you've stolen it, which might be a little awkward.
In fact, it's my observation that some traditional bibliophiles are simply unloading the better part of their libraries and making much needed space for something else.
I know that because of my experience as an "antiquer," someone who goes to a good dump or junkyard of some sort, eagerly anticipating the unexpected find.
Not long ago, I found a dump (many miles from Charleston) that has a "Take it or Leave it" section, where interested patrons can drop off stuff that might be of interest to others, or walk away with stuff that's of personal interest.
There, amid all the clutter, were lots of perfectly good books, some fairly old, including a first-edition copy of Ernest Hemingway's "Across the River and into the Trees"! Now, there was no dust jacket and the book was pretty banged up, but it was what it was, and I quickly scarfed it up and put it on a bookshelf at home. I was thrilled and can't wait to go back and do some more "antiquing" -- my way, that is.
No doubt the person who dumped all the books had bought a Kindle and was tired of messing around with his traditional library. To which I say: Thank you very much indeed. Please e-mail me at the below address if you have any more first-edition Hemingways you'd like to give me.
This may raise the question as to what I left behind at "Take it or Leave it." An old TV set, still working, by the way.
It wasn't until we were leaving the dump that I saw a sign that read (and I'm not making this up), "Please do not leave any TV sets at 'Take it or Leave it.' " And no, I didn't turn around, but I might next time.
As I thumbed through the first pages of "Across the River," which I had never read before, I was struck once again by the sparseness of Hemingway's prose, delivered with glib, uncompromising precision and honesty. This will probably bomb, but here's how Hemingway might have described a journey to the dump:
"A cool rustling breeze awoke the man from a deep sleep. It was a good breeze, invigorating and sharp, and he quivered out straight and yawned before getting up and stumbling to his feet.
" 'Where are you going?' she asked, beginning to tremble. 'You're always searching for something. You needn't search with me at your side!'
"The man stared into the horizon, the clarity of his gaze determined but impenetrable.
"You can't go where I need to go, woman. I need to find refuge in the refuse of humanity, in the land where time and decay collide in the spirit of renewal.'
" 'You,' she started to weep. 'You didn't tell me about ... about HER. You're decaying and she's renewal. It's the same ...'
" 'I'm not dumping you, my love,' he said, cradling her delicate jaw in his large hand. 'I'm just antiquing.'
"And so out he walked, burdened by the compulsion of searching. The road was hardscrabble and tough, and he lay in the meadow along the way, where a rabbit mistook his beard for a thistle.
"At this mysterious land he searched, found and retrieved. And it was right and good.
"In the end, it made her happy."
A pretty weak Hemingway imitation, I admit. I know there are Hemingway contests all the time. Care to give me your version of the perfect Hemingway line or two?
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at email@example.com.