Ebooks. Collections of electrons. Coded digital data displayed upon a screen.
The life can go out of computers, Kindles, iPads, Nooks.
And we humans are physical beings, existing in space and time, albeit for a brief period in the grand scheme. Reducing a book to set type on a printed page is, for me, necessary to anchor my thoughts and expressions. To give them weight and heft.
Until I have committed to that physical reality, it feels as if I'm still in drafts, as if things are still provisional. There's something about that Copyright Notice. Something about Cracking Open the box containing the freshly minted books . . ..
I touch the book I'm currently reading, one by another author. It is a good quality paperback with a nice matte cover and a professional cartoonist illustration on the front. It has a clever title. Creamy acid-free pages. Lovely. Though it is a fairly recent book, some parts of it are already out of date. Within the pages I find old technology. Archaic modes of speech. Some retrograde attitudes.
That is fine--that the book is dated.
Someone committed to that view in a specific place and time.
There is something consoling in that for me. With each book I read (and I am a slow, grouchy reader), it is as if the author were saying: "Here's what the view looks like from here." Whether it's Tom Sawyer's schoolhouse, or Jane Austen's country manor, or David Sedaris' French dentist's office, with his mouth clamped firmly open.
A book is about the physicality of committing to paper a human perspective, a there and then, and what that person made of it all.
It makes going to the library, walking up and down the aisles of books from different eras, almost surreal if you think about it this way: The voices all chiming in from different cities and towns, the human experiences of different centuries and civilizations.
When I'm penning another useless sentence, I try and think of it that way. This, I think, is our contribution, from our place and time, right or wrong, early or late. What I have written is what we--what I--have made of it.
Another lone voice in the timeless cacophony.
Even if all the lights go out.
Photograph (above) is detail from the facade of the main branch of the New York Public Library, New York, New York.