My Kindle, in plain view on the subway or bus, keeps my fellow commuters from knowing whether I have good or bad taste in books. Not only that, but their own ebooks keep me from knowing their taste in books.  These electronic readers keep me from judging people!  I hate that.  I am a person who stands strategically near the bookshelf at a cocktail party and squints at the spines of books, swatting away canapé-carrying waiters in favor of Isak Dinesen, all because she had a farm in Africa.  I have long held the view that you could fall in love with someone based mostly upon what they like to read.  Really shallow or disturbed people could carry Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell, or Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children, and I might fall in love with them.  But what am I supposed to do now, since everyone is hiding their preferences under a black leatherette cover, or even under a whimsical one, designed to look like Hello Kitty, or For Whom the Bell Tolls?  Fortunately for me, I am married and not in the market.  But as for those people out there who are now deprived of the opportunity to form instant opinions on a Brooklyn-bound train at night, based on another person’s relationship to literature: I feel sorry for them.

Conversations that spring up around Kindle use tend not to be about content, but about mechanics.  “Say, is that the new version?” a stranger might ask, leaning close, or, “How’s the contrast on that thing?” in place of the remark,”Why, I love The Man Who Loved Children, too!”  But perhaps there’s a chance here for people not to judge one another at all.  Apparently there’s a new TV show that’s grasping at the “American Idol” market, called “The Voice,” and the whole premise seems to be that the celebrity judges listen to a bunch of singers without looking at them, and then decide whether or not to let them proceed in the contest.  As soon as they let them advance, the judges’ chairs whirl around so they can get the visual effect, too, and think: Oh my God, oh my God, I actually allowed a fat person (or a person with deeply pocked skin) to potentially become a celebrity.  Maybe the radical way to think of all this is that people who carry ebooks should not be judged by the likes of me or you.  There are a lot of kinds of books that a person can read, depending on mood.  And really, who knows what lurks behind the leatherette?  Maybe it isn’t even a book at all, but a series of random words strung together.  Or maybe, inside the Hello Kitty cover carried by a handsome thirty-year-old banker, resides a novel called Hello Kitty: a Tokyo Adventure.  I don’t know what people’s relationship to reading is going to be in the future.  I have no idea how brainy young people will fall in love.  Perhaps it will only be about pheromones, buffness or banter, and never ever involve the sexual stimulants known as Cormac McCarthy or David Foster Wallace or Virginia Woolf.

Books, those shape-shifters, are changing fast.  They are becoming elusive, hidden, and perhaps soon they will be entirely internal, screened on our brain-pans for an audience of one, leaving the hands free.  But even so, I know that I’ll keep reading, I’ll keep writing, and I guess I’ll keep judging people in whatever secret ways I can.

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