My dad often quotes my grandfather with this simple line: If someone is smart enough to write it, you should be smart enough to read it.
There’s so much brilliance in such a simple, straight forward sentiment.
It speaks to the importance of education and one being learned enough to be able to read in the first place.
It speaks to the importance of an open mind in reading as a means to broaden one’s horizons and world understanding.
It speaks to the importance of respect and particularly that of the act of respecting the effort and skill it used to take to write (before the internet made everyone an author)
What it doesn’t speak to is a judgement of the quality of the work produced at all, only that it should be read.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been a bookworm, err, library mouse. When I was a child my mom used to take my sister and I to the public library over summer vacation and have us take out books to read above and beyond what the school might have suggested for us. I remember those trips extremely well, in part, because the library’s air conditioner was a welcome reprieve from the 90/90 August weather in Jersey. The tar on the street might be bubbling up but when you got inside you could have made a snowman in that permafrost. Scouring the racks would render me with books on World War II aviation, Le Mans and Indie Car racing, biographies about musicians, astronomy and the Space Shuttle program and marine biology along with anything I needed for Cub Scouts too.
There were always book around even as I got older. Shelves of them throughout the house, be them antique volumes placed in my grandfather’s secretariat, or volumes of World Books on the big bulky living room shelves, or my personal collection of music theory manuals stacked by percussion equipment and the list goes on.
Each book had it’s own personality… from the cover to the pages to the bindings. A tactile feel in one’s hands imparting textures, weight, balance, size. An aural response as the pages flipped and the binding strained under the force of use. A scent be it the old almost mustiness of some to the crisp fresh ink smell of others. And of course, the visual affect itself. You consume with your eyes taking apart the entire image of the text’s packaging, from the hue of the paper to the style of the printing to the depictions of pictures and graphs to the hand written notes strewn throughout.
The love affair with books continued into college where when I needed to get away I would easily find myself hiding in the library when I just needed to get away from my over-dense schedule of classes and extra-curriculars. I definitely was not there for research, that’s for sure … but what I found was an inspiration for expression as I flipped through whatever books happen to be on the shelves of the row I was hanging out in.
After graduation books, like CDs, traveled with my from apartment-to-apartment. When most of my friends were trying to minimize their collections in order to maximize wall space and make the moves easier I was simply adding on. Music and writing, business and law along with an ever increasing number of the “classics” became my focus as if space was ner an issue. I saw the value in the reference section for work and school but moreso the relaxation of being able to crawl into the folding antique Peir One Imports chair I had and read.
Living next to a library for a time, in conjunction with my commute into the city from the suburbs meant at one point I was consuming three-to-four books a month, ripping through the likes of Shelly, Kundera, Carroll, Huxley, Tolkein, Orwell, Dostoyevsky, Verne and Salinger, to name but a few and I could feel my mind expand and in such my soul become more alive as not only the escape of their stories but the intellectual challenge of their words inspired me. I scrawled in the margins myself and read what others had left me of their notes tucked in the bindings or between the lines.
Could I experience all of these writers digitally? Absolutely. Would it be the same? Probably not.
As much as I read using technology there is a completely different experience in consuming from book and in selecting from a library shelf contextually. The condition of the book tells you about it and its past in a way a digital file can never express and some of that worn in history to its existence might be of an idyllic nostalgia but a necessary motive for wanting to continue reading from books. Thousands of online reviews can’t always tell you what thousands of page turns can when sliding a book off of a shelf, even in a store where the book is assumed to be new. There’s a character to how a book displays itself, how it feels in your hands, how it looks to your eyes.
Furthermore, there’s a style to book printing which has not been ported over to digital in my experience. Every ebook is essentially uniform. The typeface font, the point size, the letting and due to the devices even the page size and margins are all now essentially constant. This makes them feel generic and homogenized. The art that was typesetting is slowly disappearing and thus some of the subtle elements of how we interacted with books is lost within digital predictability. Where in my mind’s eye I can still see some of the unique attributes of the page sets when holding the hardcover version of To Kill a Mockingbird and Watership Down in high school reading on an ebook those are lost. Although many of the print versions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland do include the 42 wood engraved illustrations from the original pressing (or some variation thereof) few of the digital copies I’ve run into have any illustrations whatsoever, nor any of the flourishes with the text so common in Carroll’s efforts. It doesn’t stop me from reading digital, but it changes the tone of the experience to be sure.
It is in those quaint examples I’m so drawn to the physical copies of books and why today’s affirmation is that of a book.