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Turning the page on paper

It's fitting that I chose a book about Scientology as my first e-book experience.

I'm through a chunk of Lawrence Wright's fascinating "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief," and believe me, the pages are flying by.

Only they aren't flying anywhere. And they aren't pages.

It went down like this: A friend owed me a little bit of money and asked whether I wanted repayment in cash or gift.

I said I didn't care. Knock yourself out.

About a week later, a Nook arrived in my mailbox.

The Nook is Barnes & Noble's e-book device, which is probably that company's last hurrah before it goes the way of fallen booksellers Borders and Waldenbooks.

(And good riddance to them, Borders especially. When I was living in the Midwest years ago, independent bookstores in Chicago, St. Louis and Minneapolis were as prominent as Starbucks. You could duck around any corner and land in a storefront lined with an eclectic book selection often mirroring the owner's personal interests. I remember buying the Raymond Chandler oeuvre at Big Sleep Books, a genre-themed bookstore in St. Louis that was staffed by knowledgeable clerks who were themselves heavy readers. They would load you down with recommendations based on your purchases as they rang up your order.

An older woman who worked the evening shift at Big Sleep once recommended to me the works of Derek Raymond, a British crime writer whose novels were so bleak and despairing that he drank himself to death after writing five of them. The zeal with which this lady spoke of the dude's blood-soaked work sticks with me to this day. I ended up buying Raymond's "I Was Dora Suarez" and read the whole thing on a bus ride to Nashville later that day. It gave me nightmares. I suspect one would never have such an experience these days at a Borders. Oh wait, you wouldn't, because Borders is dead, and thank God for that.)

(Another parenthetical thought to my readers: If you are from the St. Louis area and have knowledge of Big Sleep Books and feel the need to tell me that it closed because of chain stores or e-books, do me a favor and keep it to yourself. My heart can't handle such news right now. Thank you.)

The morning I received the Nook was momentous. It was one of those life-altering junctures that don't seem life-altering at the time.

I've officially gone from the cool, sexy guy with the book at the coffee shop to the wired, yuppie scum with the e-book at the coffee shop.

It's a decision I make with a full understanding of the ramifications. Goodbye cool, sexy days. Hello pragmatism.

You see, I move a lot. I've changed apartments about 23,456 times since I moved to Southern Oregon. I live simply, so my kitchen supplies and electronic junk can be hauled in one truck load.

However, the boxes of books are a chore to move. And they're freaking heavy. I'm one of those nerdy English majors who kept all of his school books, including those damn Norton literary anthologies that weigh 10 pounds each. I'll never get rid of them. Should I decided it's all just not worth it anymore and throw myself off the Golden Gate Bridge, I plan to weigh myself down with a backpack loaded with my Norton Anthology of English Literature and my complete set of 1998 Chicago Cubs baseball cards.

The e-book makes it easy to buy tomes and store them in some digital cloud hanging above Seattle. There's an entire literary world at my fingertips now, and I'm not sure what to do with it.

The plan is to keep just enough books to line the walls of my apartment. That way I still give off a vibe of literate sophistication when girls come over, but without the closet full of books that no one sees except for me and whatever poor bastard helps me move to apartment No. 23,457.

I'm finding that the act of reading on the Nook doesn't take away from the experience of reading in any notable way. I've gotten used to brushing my finger across a screen and seeing a fake page whisk by. It's cheesy, but somehow psychologically works for me.

The other night, I was hit with the irony of my first e-book experience being about Scientology, a religion that believes its progenitor Xenu descended from the stars to create Tom Cruise. Or something like that.

Like Xenu, books now beam themselves down from space and into a tiny plastic folder in my hand. And it is with that I say goodbye to paper.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.