In praise of books

11 03 2011


What follows in an excerpt from Brinnalamaya, the second book of the series, Elder Light, a manuscript I am currently immersed in revising.  But it struck me as an eloquent defense of the book as artifact.  Not that ebooks don’t have their use.  Only that they can never completely replace the bound printed page.

“The rich wealth of story collections and novels produced by their culture over the centuries was stored in the data vaults of the Museum and Archives, accessible to anyone with a computer or other reading device.  Brinnalamaya always kept pleasant and interesting reading material stored on her computer for when she had a moment or two to relax.  She also drank the tea that was quickly made by machine, generically flavored, served in mugs easily washable and not easily broken.  Such was the necessity of having a busy life with many obligations; one needed convenience and efficiency.

“But when she had genuine leisure time, a luxurious expanse of hours during which she could turn off the messenger, pretend she was not at home, and do just as she pleased, she would make tea from boiled water and steeped from choice selected and blended leaves, perhaps sweetened with a drop of honey, served in a lovely mug of unique and somewhat fragile design.  From a shelf, especially made for their storage, she would choose one of the books she had collected, favorite texts turned into old-style, bulky, inefficient, obsolete and splendid artifacts.  She would take it down, feeling the smooth texture of the cover in her hand, touching the pages and turning each leaf.  She would settle in her most comfortable chair, one with good lighting above it, wrap herself in a particularly soft afghan, sip her tea, and read.

“The beautifully rendered illustrations and the carefully chosen print style of a well-made book pleased the eye in a way that no screen image or hologram could.  Mere information could be shared on demand through networks.  Even works of art could be reproduced electronically for the benefit of the masses, for their appreciation and education.  But for that education to be complete one had to at least once see the object as it was meant to be seen, physical, present, unmediated.  Paintings, sculptures, performances of music, theater, all were best appreciated when one was there, in the same room, sensing all the subtle nuances of the experience.  Books performed that service for written text.  If it was truly art, it needed to be rendered into a form that did it justice.  Not virtual images on a screen to be quickly scanned, consumed, discarded.  But a book which endured, had presence, continued as a palpable reality even when it wasn’t being actively read.”

[Browse more excerpts from Elder Light]




One response

8 04 2011
Lynda Williams

I’m with Brinnalamaya, Justine. I like the comparison with tea made the old fashioned way. It isn’t either or, it’s yet another choice of medium to suit the need. So tired of people eager to equate any interest in the physical over the digital as the mad obsession of Luddites.

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