Bullish on books

December 1, 2012

Behold, the lowly book.

Unrefreshable, it is home to a set number of words that will never change. Those words will remain forever imprinted on their paper vessels, stubbornly there, brazenly sure their capitalization, syntax and veracity are unimpeachable.

And just as the book’s words will never change, the book’s cover will never be upgraded to present the latest graphical technology. As well, photographs or illustrations found on the inner flaps of the dust jacket or on the book’s pages will never feel compelled to burst into animated life, unless one has picked up a flip book, in which case the pages will require some nudging.

Books do not fit inside computers, phones or tablets, or at least they do not fit inside these things very well. They require shelves or dusty end tables, and occasionally the lid of a toilet tank, for support. Stacked together inside a moving box, they become an immovable object and risk collapsing into a black hole spawned by their compressed mass.

Books gather dust, and sometimes they go to an acquaintance’s house and never return. They get dents and dings. Their spines break. Some of them have coffee cup stains.

I like coffee cup stains.

The stains and dog-eared covers are like scars on a body: They are the marks of something that has lived. No perfect thing is beautiful, but books can be.

Books – pulpy, smelly things that, in the words of Dorothy Parker, can be thrown with great force – are diminished in their cultural standing, but they aren’t going away. In much the same way that audiophiles and collectors have kept the vinyl record alive three decades after its presumptive death, aficionados will ensure there is a niche market for books.

Being things that exist in the tactile realm, books may also be objects of art. They may be fetishes. They may be rare and valuable. They may smell of your grandfather’s pipe smoke.

Electronic books have convenience on their side, and persistence. While they’ll never smell of tobacco, gathered together they may present a picture of the person who read them. Still, the idea that our grandchildren might someday peruse the electronic trail of e-books that floated onto our tablets and get a better sense of the lives we led is offset by the idea that the FBI is perusing the same trail right now.

Centuries from now, when the last Kindle has gone dark, an alien archaeologist will be sifting through an earthly landfill. Among the frozen dinner trays and mercury-laced mascara tubes, the alien will find an iPod. Behind the iPod’s cracked screen will be a hard drive containing a volume of data greater than that held by the Library of Alexandria. Unable to boot iOS on the device, the alien will set aside the iPod for further study.

Digging deeper, the alien will find a ruined, hardbound edition of “Hop on Pop” by Dr. Seuss, and it will be a revelation.

Dave Penn is a copy editor for the Observer-Reporter. Contact him at dpenn@observer-reporter.com.



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