Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Ode to Real Books










I write of books as I would write of an aging parent.

With reverence, admiration, a lot of love, and a deep sense of foreboding at their possible demise. I have been raised by books as much as I have been raised by my loving parents.  I know all things are lost eventually, but mortality makes it difficult to accept that  a loved one who was so instrumental to your being alive could be lost. We have to wrestle the delusion of their invincibility as they take their last breath right in front of our eyes. So it was with me.So it is with books.

 If you dig away at the layers of my humanity, you will find you won’t have to dig very far to find the solidified layers of lessons, values and stories that reading has given me. Each bone of my body has a patina of literature protecting it; a silvery sheen of extra strength that calcium or any mineral on earth cannot provide.

With every book I have held, I have understood worlds. The firm hard covers, the soft pliable paperbacks, the yellowed pages, the glaringly new white pages, the smell of ink both fresh and mildewed --- I am inheritor of worlds through the stories that I lived through them. I am somewhat comforted that stories cannot die. That they will take on another form,  less physical but it will not make them any less real. However…

An e-book, a handheld electronic device, is so much different from a real book. Somehow, something is taken away when we take away the magnificent covers, the pages that crumble with time. I’m just afraid that by the time my own future child learns to read, she would read from a glaring screen and not a care-worn copy that faintly smells of dust. Some people would say it’s not where you read from but what you read. I am one of the very few who remains to stand in the contrary. Holding a physical book adds another dimension to the reading experience – a sensory immersion that is lessened by the clinical smoothness of an Ipad or Kindle.  God, yes, books are heavy, and at some point I was the girl who lugged around 5 books in a backpack because I read according to my mood and who knows what mood I’ll be in after lunch. But the effort of carrying a heavy bag full of books is a lesson in itself. Knowledge is a burden but it must be carried if any of it is worth knowing.

I hope books still have a long way to go. I hope we find a way to balance the digital with the physical. Earth’s institutional memory can’t all be digitalized. And I have let go of aging parents, but books --- it is not yet their time.