Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Need For Books

Ethan Bartlett, Son of Neil, erstwhile member, and still member-at-large, of the No Inklings Book Club, recently wrote a screed in which he decried these newfangled electronic readers every book merchant is seeming to come out with. One of his points, if I get his point, was that a book-in-the-hand was better than 37,000 on the screen. At our most recent book club--which was actually a Mexican food pigfest followed by a little reading and great discussion followed by an attempt--deftly deflected--to roast Ethan and his baby bro Zeke as they prepare to depart for college (truly a Franzmannian sentence going on here)--a distinguished and much beloved member of the book club (he supplies us with mounds of food each time we meet, nudge nudge, wink wink) presented Ethan with a large dorm-room-suitable poster of part of the screed imposed electronically into a Kindle reader. Or was it a Nook? I forget. Ethan was duly roasted.

In today's Wall Street Journal letters section, someone named Anthony Mirabile of Philadelphia wrote an amusing rant of his own, commenting on a recent article about "the subtle joys of communing with books". To wit:

Sven Birkert's poignant prose evokes the subtle joys of communing with books in the company of fellow book lovers ("Bye-bye Bookstores," op-ed, Aug. 6). No less a public figure than Sir Winston Churchill took comfort in the midst of books when he urged, "If you cannot read them, any rate...fondle them. Peer into them...let them fall open where they will...Set them back on the shelf with your own hands...If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate by your acquaintances." A bookstore browser expects freedom and, despite the public setting, some basic privacy. No Big Broher scrutinizes choices for thought crime, wheile the browser peruses this title or turns away from that. And the browser assumes that the books, unlike their digital substitutes, cannot be edited as they wait to be browsed.
Reaching for a book is a symbolic and literal grasp at freedom, untethered to the whim of some cyber-gate-keeper. It is bearing arms oneself versus surrendering their use to an impersonal authority. It is driving one's own car where the spirit leads, regardless of where and how the elites think you should go. It is the gesture of a citizen, versus that of a slave. It is opening one's mind to the wide field of ideas and information without the risk that one's mind will be shut off at the flick of a switch.

I'm bitterly clinging to my books.

I like that last. The editors titled the letter in part, "A PANEGYRIC ". That's fancy talk for "a letter to the editor. The word, however, seems like it ought to mean something like....


The--completely unrehearsed--Gee Library


Elephantschild said...

Now, now... like I've been trying to tell people (but nobody ever listens!) it's not an either/or proposition, this discussion of digital books.

Digital readers are extremely appropriate for brain-candy light fiction, for technical manuals, for the things you *must* read for school or for work. When I finally get to go on that long winter vacation that I desperately want to someday, I'd like to take 20 or 30 books with me--on a digital eReader. Easier to pack. No way could I take that many books on a plane flight!

Dead-tree books are for the Big Books, the books you re-read over and over again, for the books you want to mark up and savor.

I read so much across so many different genres that I have room in my life for both dead-tree books AND a Kindle (if I could afford one right now.) Furthermore, if I buy the Great Literature (which, as homeschoolers, we'll acquire quite a bit of) in dead-trees, I have to pay $5-$30 bucks each. With digital, they're free, or a few cents for conversion.

There are current-events and politically related non-fiction books that I'd like to read but not pay $25 or $30 for; I'd buy them in digital at $10 each. Then again, there are books that I treasure and savor that I would have no trouble paying $35 in order to have a paper-printed hardback.

It's not either/or. It's both/and.

Anyway: no problem if you never want to use one. I just like to step in the heated arguments and yell that there's certainly plenty of room for BOTH formats, for different uses and different reasons.

Ethan said...

Beautiful. The whole post. Except the parts where I'm mentioned, because that would be conceited.

Unknown said...

Is that where you sleep, right next to your books? Where is the light stand?
On the other hand, a pastor just told me that he has an iPhone on which he can put a book and be able to read it while on an airplane instead of carrying around a heavy book.
Pastor Gullixson

Bruce Gee said...

Ted, that's the basement dump room for books and returning sons.

I have an iPod Touch, which is the iPhone without the phone. Like it very much, use it daily, have about thirty books on it. But I don't read them. Not sure why, except I like that page thing maybe. It is what is keeping me from buying the iPad. Well, that and the price.

Oh, I read AT them. But the thrill isn't there somehow. Maybe as Elephantschild has alluded to, I don't have the right kind of book on there. I tend toward the "free classic". On an iPod, you can turn the page thirty times before you've read a page. Maybe that's the problem, one of "progress". Still working this out.