As throngs of this blog's devotees know, I've been reading Little Dorrit, and am now approaching the end of Book One, "Poverty," which is followed, naturally, by Book Two, "Riches." That's all the books in this immense novel. It's often grouped with Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend, a grand triumvirate of Dickens's mature genius.
I haven't mentioned, however, that I'm reading Little Dorrit on my Nook, the Barnes and Noble e-reader. It's a gift from my wife, Amanda, who I think was hoping I wouldn't like it. When I expressed initial pleasure, and still seemed pleased as the end of the trial period drew nigh, she went out and bought her own. A second $250! I hope that means next summer's vacation to Wisconsin Dells is off.
If she thought I might not like it, she had reasons. Imagine Henry David Thoreau charging up his e-reader on the shores of Walden Pond. His masterpiece includes this judgment: "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate." Thoreau wasn't the only book-loving reader to take a dim view of technological advancement. I have a theory that people educated in "The Humanities" are inclined to deprecate applications of scientific knowledge, which are viewed as "soulless" and "materialistic" beside the eternal Truth and Beauty contained within My Favorite Poem. Amanda might have thought that I was, you know, one of them.
I sort of am. I take pleasure in sitting on the couch, gazing at the crowded shelf across the room, letting my eye drift from one spine to the next while thinking of what I know about this book and that one, what was going on in my life when I first read it, what part I particularly liked, an exercise that sometimes makes me rise from my seat to take the volume in hand, the heft of it comfortable and reassuring as I seek out the remembered passage and find it, perhaps just as I'd expected, about a third of the way down a right-hand page three-fourths through the mass of it and marked by me with an exclamation point made with a ballpoint pen in the margin. The Nook does not afford such pleasures.
It has its advantages, however. Portability, for example. From where I am sitting I can see on the shelf The Portable Tolstoy, The Portable Nietzsche, and The Portable Chekhov. My Nook, which weighs a fraction of these three volumes and still has 4.82 GB (out of 5.00) free, includes The Complete Works of Shakespeare. If you like books and reading, why would you not want to carry around a library with you? This morning, in a coffeeshop with an electronic Little Dorrit, I was reading in Chapter 34 of the Barnacle family when I came to this sentence
Secondly, because wherever there was a square yard of ground in British occupation under the sun or moon, with a public post upon it, sticking to that post was a Barnacle.
and, contemplating the aptness of the name, Barnacle, wondered about zoological details of that creature. Dunn Brothers was not equipped with reference books but I could press my finger on the word on the "page" of the Nook and be taken to the following definition
any of numerous marine crustaceans (subclass Cirripedia) with feathery appendages for gathering food that are free-swimming as larvae but permanently fixed (as to rocks, boat hulls, or whales) as adults
before, with a second tap of the screen, proceeding to the Wikipedia article on same.
With the Nook, it's also easier to read the newspaper on the bus: you don't have to fold up the paper to keep it out of the face of the person next to you, then keep folding it in new places as you progress through the article. There is such a thing as a useful gadget. Thoreauvians: I'm just sayin'!