Sitting in a muddy stream I had fallen in, with Peterson’s field guide in my back right-hand pocket and Newcomb’s in my left, absorbing water after having softening my fall, I again reflected on the wonders of the paper book, good in all conditions and, as these two have already proven, able to be rescued from horrible situations.
Then I see people with those horrible e-readers and want to channel my inner luddite and go smash them to pieces.
Which, naturally, leads to a piece I wrote on paper books, published on PennLive.com today.
By Bob Quarteroni
I fancy myself a semi-decent amateur naturalist, so I spend a lot of time out in the woods, on my knees or duff, digging through my field guides and trying to decide if that little guy there is a European Buckthorn or not.
Imagine If I tried that with a Kindle or any e-reader. Besides the fact that a sudden urge to sit would probably result in glass shards in the area that some say is my brightest, it would hardly fit in my cargo shorts pockets where my field guides fit nicely and, unlike a paperback, if I dropped it on a rock it wouldn’t be nearly as forgiving.
Only one of the many reasons I strongly prefer good old paper books to any electronic reader.
I just don’t see the appeal, especially when I see people trying to tilt their screens so they can read in bright sunlight, or listen to someone moan about the price of downloads.
What’s the fascination? A lot has to do, I’m sure, with the desire to have the newest toy on the electronic block, whether it’s a Dicky Tracy-type wristwatch or this. And, being older than it, I don’t think I can grasp the total commitment of younger generations to an all-online world.
Pity. In some ways I feel sorry for them. I have such a strong affection for books both for the material shell, and for the words and ideas in them.
I think of times like when I had just graduated from college and two friends and I flew Icelandic Airline to Luxembourg, bought an old Renault beer delivery truck for $240, and drove around Europe, giving rides to anyone who would pay for the gas.
We only had one book among us: The first volume of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. So we – literally – split it up. As first reader I’d read 30 pages or so and then rip that part out and give them to the second reader and he would pass it on to the third reader and so on.
By the end, the book had disappeared, but we all got to read it and its one of the umpteen book memories I’ll carry with me forever.
But I know I’m a dinosaur, one of the dwindling who cannot think of a finer way to start the day than with the morning newspapers, coffee and enough time to read them, slowly, completely and luxuriously.
Like with books, I see all the advantages of actual newspapers and no disadvantages. If I see a series of lectures I want to attend, all I have to do is rip the schedule out of the paper. If I wanted to do that online, I’ve have to be sure I was near a printer and if I wasn’t, I’d be out of luck.
So, while we may eventually be reduced to a cult-like following of dwindling proportions, we paper-huggers will never go away. We will never give up our printed copies of Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” read so many times and with so many highlights and scribbles it looks like it’s been through a war; and it has, a war of love.
Just like I will never give up my tattered cheap green paperback copy of “Madame Bovary” that I return to after long absences, and sadly watch Emma’s demise in a book transported in a back pocket everywhere. And each time, her death is just as painful. I don’t know if that would be true on an e-screen.
Happily, there are other troglodytes who share my passion. Author H.L. Stephens is even more strident than me: “I will only stop reading books printed on paper when they pry them from my cold, dead, withered hands, and even then, they will be hard pressed to take them from me.”
Well, I hope I’m not quite that angry when they rip out my last page. Instead, I’d like to pay homage to the patron saint of the print, Benjamin Franklin.
No man loved the printed word more. He owned his own printing shop and printed reams of material, including the Pennsylvania Gazette and his Poor Richard’s Almanac. For the rest of his life, regardless of his other accomplishments, Franklin always considered himself a printer.
His epitaph, written as a young man, will be our last word:
The Body of
- Franklin, Printer;
Like the Cover of an old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And stript of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms
But the Work shall not be wholly lost:
For it will, as he believ’d, appear once more,
In a new & more perfect Edition,
Corrected and amended
By the Author.