Several weeks ago I spent a few minutes of my lunch break wandering through the Post Exchange. I usually go in for a seasonal beverage; it was summer and so I grabbed the customary Arizona green tea with ginseng. That secured, I stopped by the short shelf devoted to books to see what was there. Now and again I have found a real gem stuck between the standard military histories and what-not. On that day I spied Anthony Esolen’s “Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization” and flipped through a couple of dozen pages enjoying such sidebars as “Books you’re not supposed to read” and short commentaries on men and events that shaped the West.
Running out of time but not willing to leave Anthony behind in the book section, I headed to the check out, paid for my tea, and made a contribution to the well being of the Esolen clan. Flip forward to this weekend. Friday’s mail contained a slick format hybrid catalog-magazine from Memoria Press titled “The Classical Teacher.” It is a throw back from the days we were homeschooling our two oldest kids and I was learning more and more about how dumbed down our culture has become, and how lacking my own education had been, but I digress.
Esolen snagged a page 40 article on ten ways to destroy your kids’ imagination. As a whole, the article was okay. At its worst, he did a blend-two-gether of two separate topics that should have been treated separately. However, if he had done so, the part that got cut would have been the part that moved me. I’m glad they ran it with its shortcomings because he was talking about books. Here’s a pull quote:
“Books are bulky and inconvenient–like rocks, and trees, and rivers, and life.”
You get his gist? This is something I’ve struggled with as the world becomes more and more digital. I don’t mind admitting it, I’m a tech junkie. I love having the latest gadget as much as the next guy. I’ve written before on these (digital) pages that I’m impressed-as-hell with the people on the Google books project where hundreds of thousands of public domain books are being placed online for free, and all you need to access them is a device that has e-reader software on it. It is a grand feat. But…
I love books, and not just for reading. E-readers are great for reading books, but there are books on my shelves from different stages of my life, all the way back to the time when I was still living with my folks. There is Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition from Mrs. Lee’s eighth grade English class. “It” is up there from my voracious Stephen King days. Aldo Leopold occasionally calls to me from Sand County, and a tattered and dog-eared copy of Malone’s “Small Unit Leadership” that rode in my rucksack when I was a second lieutenant sits to the far right in my military section. I love each of them for a different reason, some with almost the same intensity as I love some of my friends and cherish the memories of the ones that have passed on. I can’t have that intense a relationship with an e-book that disappears and reappears when I switch my current gadget off or on.
If you shed a tear on your e-book, the salt doesn’t sink into a page. If you get caught in a summer shower with Ridley Pearson those two pages won’t forever be mottled and bumpy like the ones in a real book will. While there is some highlighting and footnoting capability in the best e-readers, it isn’t the same as angrily scribbling comments on paper margins or double or triple-circling a word that was so well chosen by an author that you have to find a way to celebrate it.
I still haven’t addressed the whole touch, smell and heft issues, but they’re more familiar to anyone who has thought about any of this even for a brief moment. So I won’t. I’ve had arguments with myself about culling back some of my shelf space if I could get the same “book” on my e-reader. I’ve done the whole fire hazard argument with myself, as well as the clutter argument, and well…all of them. I believe I’ve been thorough, and I’ve made my decision.
To hell with it, I’m keeping my hefty, cumbersome, yellowing, tear-stained, bug-slammed, mud-draggled and rain-splattered library, and I will continue to add to it. I believe, and will to the day of my death, that a room without books is like a body without a soul. So if you come over and I have to excuse myself while I move a stack from here to there, or if the room smells too much of archival paper, cracked bindings and dusty leather, I’ll light a Yankee candle to mask the smell for you and get on with the entertaining. Will I keep adding to my e-library, too? Don’t be silly, of course I will. If the only way I can get hold of an otherwise rare or desired book is in digits, then I’ll take it any way I can get it. But it just won’t be the same, y’hear?