Commune of Women is a novel about six women, trapped together in a small room, who must use their slender resources to survive and prevail by sharing everything: their hope and fear; their food; and their life stories, which grow deeper, darker and more intimate as the days pass.
There’s much talk, these days, about the death of the book, and with e-books outselling hard- and paperbacks, I suppose it’s a legitimate concern. While I’m not one of those people who wants to turn back the clock to the “good old days,” or to deny progress, I frankly just can’t warm up to e-books, even though Commune of Women is selling like hotcakes in that format. I mean, how do you curl up with an e-book on a rainy day? Where’s the heft of a good book? The smell of one? The texture of the paper, from fine linen to coarse pulp? Or its tone, from pure white to off-white to ivory to yellowed with age?
And what about bookcases? Bookcases and walls of books are a major factor in my home decorating scheme. Without them, the house would be denuded. It would echo. The temperature would drop in here, from lack of bookish insulation. Without all these books, which number, I’m guessing, in the thousands, I would feel friendless and depotentiated. Even if I never crack most of these volumes again, they are an energetic potential that I can tap at any time, day or night, to transform my world. They are a force field that surrounds, energizes and protects me.
And then there are the books to which I return, again and again, like old friends. They rest comfortably in my hands, my thumbs having bent them, previously, to just the right angle of openness. There is my underlining, in pencil. Then, on other passes, in red, in blue, in brown. And marginalia along the margins that I can follow like a detective follows clues, to discover who I was the first or the last time I read from this volume. Because the focus does change. Lines that elicited an AHA! moment before might leave me flat, this time. Whole paragraphs that I skipped over in my assessment may suddenly leap into prominence, as if written in bold, or in letters of fire of Biblical proportions.
I can’t imagine how I could have this kind of ongoing dialogue with an e-book. They seem so ephemeral. They are part word and part wave form; an abstraction; a flitter of physics. I suppose they suit our times, when everything solid seems to be coming unhinged and flying off in all directions, like some heretofore undiscovered scene from Alice in Wonderland. Or when people are downsizing and need to store entire libraries in a space the size of legal tablet. Maybe this reduction will continue until the modern philosophical question will be, How many books can be stored on the head of a pin? People say to me with genuine enthusiasm, “Aren’t e-books great?” and I feel as if I’m about to cast aspersions upon the Grand Canyon or La Traviata or the Girl Scouts, if I speak my truth, so ingrained in the culture have e-books become. I feel I must comment favorably, even when not so inclined. It’s awkward.
So, please forgive me if I am unmotivated in regard to e-books; if I stall and even prevaricate in response to them, in defending my antique, book-lined bailiwick. This is my bulwark against much that is unpleasant and disquieting in life. And there’s always a creative stir here. Under a lovely, antique, wool challis paisley cloth covering a round table in the corner, this very moment, there are sliding stacks of books hiding – my to-read piles; the newbies who haven’t found their places on the library shelves, yet. They call to me with their separate seductions: colorful dust jackets, interesting fonts, intriguing subject matter, authors of note. They are as actively fermenting as newly bottled beer. I can almost hear the whispers of their persuasions, attractions and temptations, the rustles of their pages fanning and preening. And not one of them speaks thus because it is battery-operated. They are living presences.
The death of the book? Nay, my friend. They are immortal.