I got into the paperback debate once again this week, in part because of an email exchange with a Reswyt reader, to whom I was able to send a concise one-word response as to why, exactly, I’m still not issuing paperback copies of Reswyt and Nekhet.
That word was Dune.
Dune is my all-time favorite book. I’ve read Dune, easily, five hundred times in this life. It’s my sneezing-on-the-couch book, nervous-the-night-before-a-presentation book; it’s my literary macaroni and cheese on shitty days, my dependable go-to to read by the pool. I think it is to me what the Harry Potter series is to many people; an endlessly readable work. I’ve read Dune when I was eight and eighteen and twenty-eight and thirty-eight. I’ve read Dune in a ski lodge with a fractured foot, and I’ve read Dune lying in an infinity pool in Cabo San Lucas, Negra Modelo falling readily to hand. I’ve read Dune in a house; I’ve read Dune with a mouse. I will read Dune here, and there, Sam-I-Am; I will read Dune everywhere.
(For haters who are tempted to click away now, and have vowed that if Dune is indeed my favorite book, they will never read anything by me again: note that Dune was Game of Thrones before there was Game of Thrones; it boldly eschewed pew-pew science fiction at a time when every secondary character was hosing coherent light around, electing instead to favor blade combat. Dune put feudalism and religion and philosophy into a sci-fi setting flawlessly, in a way that’s never been duplicated since; take it from someone who’s read every single ‘this is the next Dune’ book ever set forth by a book publicist. It’s an absolutely unique book (and series); you don’t read something and put it down and say, “That was like Dune – only more so.”)
But as much as I love Dune – and, in terms of the story, I do – I also hate Dune, the physical book. It’s five-hundred-ought pages of densely printed type, and no matter what edition I get, it’s always printed on the thinnest, most gossamer paper the printer could possibly coax into holding ink, the better to keep it from becoming a four-inch-thick paperback. But the same printing decisions that enable Dune to be held comfortably in one hand – while ordering a beer with the other, or stirring a piping hot bowl of pho – also make it an environmental nightmare. Dune, you see, is a book best read in a semiconductor manufacturing clean room; spill a drop of anything on its glassine pages, and you’ll see it go straight through an entire chapter, like xenomorph blood in Aliens, rendering whole paragraphs and pages entirely unreadable. Forget your copy of Dune in the beach bag, and drop a wet towel on it, and the next morning you’ll be the owner of a bizarre-looking creature, the offspring of a Japanese fan and a cuttlefish. I’ve dropped a copy of Dune in the snow (after the aforementioned fractured foot) and ten seconds later, it was an unreadable horror. Add in the fact that the pages religiously tear if not given a pre-turn saikeirei and slowly moved over with a spotless white glove, and it’s a recipe for disaster. And this doesn’t even count the number of copies I’ve just flat-out lost, probably buried at the bottom of a U-Haul box somewhere in the basement. (In the afterlife, I’ll probably get back every ballpoint pen I’ve ever lost, along with every misplaced copy of Dune, and be subjected to a second, crushing death under their weight.)
As a result, I’ve probably purchased fifty copies of Dune in my lifetime, over three decades of reading. The spifftastic leather-bound copy sits up in my office bookshelf, but years of grudgingly forking over $8.95 to bookstore clerks for a new paperback copy have made me paranoid about that copy in the extreme, and there it sits for all time, a museum curation exercise more than a usable book. And so, almost on an annual basis, I’d look around for my copy of Dune to take on a business trip or an afternoon at the pool, and either not be able to put my hands on it, or find that the latest copy, too, has fallen prey to the ravages of some environmental factor or other.
Thus, my childlike satisfaction with the Kindle, where my copy of Dune now lives, permanently, ubiquitously, a wireless tablet click away from respawning on some device or another for an afternoon out on the deck with a cold beverage. I’ve downloaded Dune to my daughter’s Kindle and read it while she took placement tests; I’ve downloaded Dune to my phone while stuck in traffic. It’s all the same copy, it’s always in pristine condition, and I never have to pay for it again. Ever. Like Duncan Idaho’s ghola, I can simply warm up another Tleilaxu copy of Dune anytime I want – and, having achieved this particular level of book-curation Nirvana, I just can’t imagine the scenario under which you’d want a paperback. I’m not saying Reswyt or Nekhet is going to become the kind of book you’d want handy on this sort of basis – but you probably have such a book in mind, your own personal Dune, and you’d want the Kindle curation benefit for that book, I’m sure.
Still not sold? Quick, name the last album or track you bought. So – you got that as a CD, right? No? A cassingle? Eight-track? 45RPM? Wax cylinder? No? You bought it on iTunes, you say, and stuck it into iTunes Match, and now you can download and listen to it anywhere, on any device, anytime, and you, uh…never have to pay for it again? It’ll never melt on your dashboard, or cultivate a psychotically-placed vinyl skip, or be accidentally used as a coaster at a cocktail party? Because it’s digital content, you say.