I am a book stalker. If I see you reading a book in a public place I just have to know what it is. Not knowing drives me mad. I might miss a train or a bus just so I can loiter casually until I have finally eyeballed the cover of the novel you’re reading there. I’m not stalking you. I promise. It’s all about the book.
It occurs to me that this minor obsession is triggered primarily by printed and bound books. I do not linger over e-readers, trying to catch a glimpse of a title. At least not yet.
There is a sensual pleasure in stalking a print book. Is it one I’ve read? Is it an edition I know? Or a new cover? What will the reveal tell me about you, reader? And what is this strange link that just your holding a book makes between us? There’s a frisson in knowing that the philandering words snuggle in tight and intimate with us both — with all of us. Not so much missed connections, but connections discovered, connections entirely mediated by our relationship with our own pages and probably never made real or direct. We stay– connected — strangers.
One of the potentials of the e-book is the tantalising possibility of endless interconnection — we’re apparently on the edge of the Facebook of books. We’ll be able to post comments, and know exactly what our friends are reading. We’ll make new friends, and bond over books. Our novels will recommend new people to us, just as our friends suggest novels. Books will invite us to follow each other, and to favourite each other’s reviews. We’ll live-tweet our book experiences. People will reblog our annotations, and we will like that.
Conversely, though, one of the pleasures of the printed book is the absolute tease that you, reader, have a relationship to the book you’re reading that excludes me now. And at the same time I know you too because of my own intimacy with the same words. Books distance us and draw us closer at the same time, and that contradiction is part of where their fascination lies for me.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. I’m not the only one stalking the printed book. In fact, it turns out I’m just a horrible amateur. Slate reports on Reinier Gerritsen’s project “The Last Book” — in which he photographs people reading books on the New York subway.
Gerritsen was struck by the incredible diversity of books he saw in the subway system. He was also interested in observing how an individual’s choice of book was as much an expression of identity as an item of clothing. Gerritsen found the L train’s reading material especially interesting.
“The L is the most intellectual line, I think. A lot of people are going to Brooklyn. They read certain books. There is a difference,” he said.