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