Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mourning the Printed Book

I came late to the High Altar of the E-book Revolution but now I’m a True Believer, a zealot of the New Order, a committed follower of this New Faith…but there is another truth and that is I can’t imagine a world without printed books.

As much as I embrace what we gain with e-book technology, I also mourn what we lose -- and make no mistake about it: we lose much.

I found a thoughtful and well written article this morning about what it means to two other people to lose the printed book. Their words resonated deeply in me; they touched all the mournful chords in my heart, played all the strings of my own melancholy -- and yes, fears -- about a future where printed books are seen as the dinosaur bones of an anachronistic time... a period in history that slipped away with a barely audible whimper and not the bang it surely deserved. 

Allow me to share some of these thoughts so eloquently expressed by Kent Anderson:

May 13, 2011

While in many ways I celebrate the introduction of e-books — for instance, they don’t take up space after I’m done reading them, I can buy them whenever and wherever I like, they’ve allowed a new breed of authors to succeed, and they tend to be cheaper than paper books — there is something deep down that makes me sad about the decline of paper books.***********

First, some background. I’m the kid who had more than 1,500 books in his bedroom arranged alphabetically by author within genres; the college student who would troll used bookstores for interesting titles, inhaling the sweet smell of decomposing pulp paper all the while; the adult who read “A Gentle Madness,” a portrait of bibliophilia, and instantly identified with it; the man who owns autographed copies of favorite books, owns rare books, and who flinches if someone drops a book, worried that the book is OK.

I love looking at books. There is so much information packed into each little offering. Careful attention is rewarded — the cover art, the blurb on the back, the copyright page, the frontispiece. If it’s a hardcover, I always remove the dust jacket to examine the obsessiveness with which the coverboards were decorated — I have a theory that better books get more design attention. I pay attention to how “the curtain rises” as you flip past the frontispiece — do you encounter a map, a preface, an introduction, or dive right in?

I love the smell of books, especially old ones on cheap paper. I love the differences in paper, from the Bible paper of old dictionaries to the acid-free pristine stuff used in top-shelf design books.
I love cheap old paperbacks and how they hang on to their integrity against all odds, aging slowly and reflecting a place in aesthetic and cultural time.

And I love bookstores, where this rogue’s gallery of impulses, ideas, and notions gathers in stupefying abundance, like a miniature city of fantasies, arguments, and enticements.

[W]hen we’re lucky enough to find a decades-old copy in a used book store, a tangible bit of the past we can take home with us. We open the cover and are intrigued by who may have owned it before and run a finger over the name written in cursive on the inside cover, then wonder what might have happened to her. Who she was, this woman who for some reason included the year beside her name, and where she lived, how her book found its way to the store. When we fold back the paperback cover, it is slick and stiff with newness or soft and worn like old, time-rubbed money. The pages are white or they’re tanned by dust and years, flat and thin or grainy, bumpy, and thick – almost cringe-inducing, as when tracing a finger along an oxidized car hood – and the pages’ edges are the color of dandelion smear. We bookmark our places with old business cards, Christmas ribbons, envelopes, or shopping receipts, and  years after reading, we may find a memory tucked between pages 7 and 8. We curl down corners marking sex-hot scenes and glide ballpoint lines under passages we want to recall. We slide our fingers over the words we love, tear out the pages that piss us off, and hurl incomprehensible narrative across the room. Books are our face-umbrellas in bright sunlight, fans in the heat, levelers of uneven tables, and warm decoration in an otherwise nondescript room. They are our age, they are our parents’ age, they are our grandparents’ age. When we turn the pages, we’re touching time. I don’t want to be tempted away.

E-books wipe out all this incidental memory, the human trail.

There is a part of me that is pained by this. But it’s a pain I’ve experienced before, a mourning that’s not at all unfamiliar. And I know there is no turning back.

Please read Kent Anderson's entire article at The Scholarly Kitchen.

Enjoy your Saturday!

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