NSR is pleased to present the second in a series of stories written by Yoav Lorch, Founder and CEO of Total Boox, on the irrationality of the ebook ‘situation’ in libraries. His first story, Book Snatching — Clearly the most violent act in the history of reading, was published on NSR three weeks ago. It is about the absurdity of ebooks disappearing from devices; this one is about the absurdity of needing to place holds in digital environments.
Librarians and publishers alike need to be reminded of such absurdities. In a world beset with analytical articles from trade journals, it’s quite refreshing to consider such absurdities through fictional narratives. As Neil Gaiman (long-time supporter of libraries) wisely put it: “Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing, and life doesn’t.”
Placing a Hold
Emotional adventures in the ebook catalog
by Yoav Lorch
My library allows us, the patrons, to place up to 10 holds on books. I noticed I used up 9, and not wanting to waste valuable resources I set to place my last hold.
I considered placing it on book A, and then thought better of it. As I was attempting to move away, book A emitted, in a faint but determined voice: “I think you should reconsider.”
Important note: in this short piece the books talk. They express themselves verbally. A bit childish, I know, but it does help to make the point.
What do you mean? I asked.
Just that you reconsider, book A replied drily. There are many good reasons to place a hold on me.
See for yourself. How many books have 24 holds on them?
So you think I should place a hold on you because you already have so many holds? This was a new thought for me.
I don’t wish to sound pompous, but very few books in this library have more holds than I do.
Does this make you a good book?
I suppose so. People don’t place that many holds on bad books, do they?
But, but… I tried answering. Those who placed holds on you never even read you. It’s like asking four-year-olds to recommend a race-car. What do they know?
Book A took a deep breath, but before he even started to answer, I moved away. I’m certain this conceited snob had a well-worded reply for anything, but I couldn’t take it any more.
Book B was quite different, and seemed genuinely appreciative of my attention.
If you are considering placing a hold, he said, feel free to do so. Any time.
You like holds, don’t you?
So how come you only have two holds on you?
I don’t know. Beats me. At least I can offer you speed.
If you don’t like me you can quickly find out and take your hold elsewhere. Small decision. Quick results.
So you don’t promise quality, you just promise speed?
Let me tell you, my dear friend, he whispered in a raspy voice. What is quality? It’s very subjective. It’s personal. It’s all over the place. Speed is not. You are the third hold. In three weeks max you can start leafing through me and see for yourself. Isn’t that something?
I was still hesitant.
C’mon, he said. You only live once. Place your hold and go do your things.
I was considering book B, but his reasoning seemed a bit crude. Un-artistic. So I kept going.
Book C was totally silent.
Hello, I said.
May I place a hold on you?
Why not? I thought books love holds.
Not I. I hate them.
But you know I see you are not available. So how can I read you?
What do you mean?
I mean there are gazillions of books out there, go get one and read it. What do you want from me? I can’t solve all your problems.
I was flabbergasted. By the style and the content. What an attitude this book had.
Placing a hold is very common, I started. I was actually apologizing.
Why do you all love making these dreamy rendezvous in the future? He was almost screaming. Planning ahead. Placing holds. If you want to read, read. Stop bopping around.
Hmm, I said. This actually makes me want to place my last hold on you.
No, no. Don’t do it. I beg you. I’m a horrible book. You won’t enjoy me.
Just one hold! You don’t have any.
No, no. I can’t take holds. It’s a horrible burden.
Why is that?
All these holds, and the waiting periods, they build up expectations, and it makes readers disappointed. They feel they waited in vain. They feel they have been cheated. I can’t take any of this. This is why I became an available-ist. He pronounced it like ‘generalist.’
It’s a small movement, but we are growing fast. We believe in being available. Simply available. Any one can pick us up and read. Right here, right now. End of story.
It did make sense to me.
It’s freedom. He said. Simplicity. Did you read The Power of Now? Great book. You should read it.
Something in what book C said hit home. It made me feel like a gambler. Placing bets instead of simply reading. He called it a “dreamy rendezvous with books I know little about. Quite articulate. On my way out I threw my last hold into the trash. I think I just became a no-holdist. No, not nudist. No-holdist.