When compact discs arrived in the ’80s and ’90s, I chuckled at old schoolers bemoaning the demise of album cover art as if vulgar tribes had overrun Rome. I couldn’t have cared less. I loved the sound quality and was fine never to see another bulbous psychedelic font or clichéd white lettering on black.
Flash forward a couple decades, and one might say the shoe is on the other foot. Technology – that great double-edged sword – is now lunging a death stab into one of my own small pleasures: the book dust jacket.
Best Se-’L-ers List
Not that I ever thought book covers represented a high point in Western Art (unless you count that revolutionary Harlequin Historical series with a forever young Fabio). No, what I mourn is the loss of the once great tradition of “Commuter Book Recommendations” and the funny encounters book covers occasioned for me on the Chicago ’L.
Public transportation has many pains and too few pleasures, but among the latter was the opportunity to anticipate burgeoning best sellers by observing how frequently certain books emerged from totes and backpacks. Books like How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Infinite Jest, Devil in the White City, Who Moved My Cheese, Freakanomics, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
I considered it my CTA Browsing Library. Occasionally, an obscure title even prompted my next read, such as Michael Ondaaje’s Coming Through Slaughter.
But the E-reader Age is shutting the curtains on this peeking-tom pastime. A Kindle, Nook or iPad means no book jackets. No book jackets mean the only way to determine if those over-pierced commuters in combat boots are reading The Goebbels Diaries or The Nanny Diaries is to – *gulp* – ask them.
Meet-Cutes & Train Nazis
I also miss the small surprises – both good and bad – caused by book jackets. At the fun end of the spectrum, a woman once saw I was reading Middlemarch and threw her business card on my book before running off at her stop.
The worst? Another time I was trying to board a Blue Line train at Belmont. No seats were free, but I saw if I could reach the back door, I could then lean against it and read my book in relative ease all the way downtown.
But the path to paradise will have its obstacles.
First, one rider had anchored herself in the doorway making it difficult to board and de-board. After I had squeezed past, I next confronted her huge duffle bag lying completely across the aisle. Undeterred, I took a long stride over her obtrusive canvas body bag and headed to the back door.
However, I apparently had stepped on a small corner of her duffle bag, and this offensive rider wished to make it known to everyone on the train. “How rude!” she squealed angrily. I tried to explain how if she wasn’t blocking the door and aisle people could more easily pass, but she cut me off and droned loudly, “You could have said excuuuuse meee.”
The other passengers began looking up to decipher culprit from victim, but I didn’t care. I was not going to be verbally bullied by this would-be dictator. So, uncharacteristically for me, I jabbed a finger in her direction and blurted out “Screw you!”
This shut her up, but my victory was short-lived. With everyone still puzzling over who was the real offender here, I leaned against the back door, pulled out my book, and sealed the judgment against me. As fate that week had it, I was reading a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography emblazoned with a single unfortunate word on the dust-jacket spine: “Hitler.”
Oh how an E-reader would have been appreciated that day.
SkitSketchJeff is Jeff Burdick, who also narrates a highly successful series of coloring books on tape for the color blind. For more FluffingtonPost, visit BurdickComm.com.
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