Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Value of a Book

It doesn't depend on electricity or a program, that is a paperback or hardcover. You can carry it anywhere. You can feel it. It connects you to others, the past, the present, and the future. You say a Kindle or an I Pad can do the same. You don't know books.

Have you heard of folios? Those partitions which made up dusty old books of the past which had watermarks, and were sown together. They were practically handmade in hot printing presses published in guilds. Teams of people working together to produce a masterpiece.

Then take the scribes in Jewish circles and monks in Christian tradition, dutifully transcribing our ancient texts seated in tall stools next to an open window. Tediously and meticulously using quills, inks, and blotters in their work. Both keeping the holy days and living reverent lives to be worthy of lifting the pen for the duty set before them. The scribes omitting vowels, especially to the name of G-d because they felt unworthy to write down His Holiness. While the monks were elaborating beautiful ornate letters to the beginning of each Biblical passage. So beautiful. Can't you just imagine touching one of these pages, or running your hand over the cracked ridged spine of one of these books? I have.

It is the beauty of the written text versus the ephemeral coded one. Ironically, the users of Kindle, I Pads, and such are the first to love a book. I know because I had insatiable devourers of books at home who cuddled their books in secret corners and tucked themselves quietly away on a hammock or huge cushions, and wandered to other countries or even universes joining contraband, time travelers, hijackers, and sleuths. Book clubs and pocketbooks could not keep up with them. It was only a well stocked library that sufficed them. Now these dreamers have their I Pads and love the convenience. They carry huge libraries incognito with them quietly reading again.

On the other hand, paperbacks are no more handmade than a fast food hamburger, so there is no mystic associated with them other than the author's message, and its front and back covers. Covers are always artistic and I Pads lack that creativity. I know I am looking at externalities, but reading is as much a social activity as being seen in a particular coffee shop. Perhaps, I am much more enamored with the externals than with the content of a book. But not knowing what a person is reading is about as isolating as hearing a person talk in a foreign language you don't know.

People want to make a connection. Books offered that. So books have a side IPAD creators have not considered. Perhaps little posters as a skin can be placed on the back of IPAD's so that readers don't appear as snooty as a newspaper reader hiding behind a paper. Of course, those that don't want to make friends can simply not use them.

There is one positive about IPADs and Kindles that is undeniable. They are green and about as positive for the environment as anything invented. No use of paper to print the book therefore trees are saved. We need that. On that point alone, they have won me over. Yet, there is something about a portable book with its attractive covers, with its kinestetic and social connection that neither an IPAD nor a Kindle offer at this time. Maybe when the designers of Kindles and IPADs reexamine its exterior casing, perhaps coming up with attractive skin for these practical gadgets, then I will feel compelled to buy one.

Nevertheless, in the meantime I think I need to write a book and have it published before hardbound books join the long line of things that are vanishing before us such as Studebakers, drive in theaters, Space Shuttles, hour lunches, long conversations under a shaded tree, and huge libraries.

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