I bought a book today.
That may require some elaboration…
Today I purchased an actual, physical, tangible, hold-it-in-your-hands-and-run-the-pages-under-your-thumb book.
I suppose I could say that it doesn’t matter which book I bought. But I’m pretty sure the identity of said book was the prime reason I bought it in this particular form.
It was Shadow Show, a just-published anthology of stories written in tribute to Ray Bradbury. (The timing of the release, just over a month following Bradbury’s passing, is at once entirely coincidental and entirely fitting.) There are some rather impressive names involved here – Neil Gaiman, Dave Eggers, Harlan Ellison, Margaret Atwood, and many more, most of whom I’ll be discovering for the first time. But of course, it was that one name that drew me to the book in the first place: Ray Bradbury.
I could have gone for the e-book. I actually enjoy e-books from time to time. Beyond the apparent convenience and lower price point, it’s fairly easy to read much longer works fairly quickly. But there’s no way I could justify settling for something so… insubstantial when the point was to honor the man who in Fahrenheit 451 wrote:
“Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion.”
And that’s the thing. Words may be words, and may have equal effect whether you see them on a page or a screen. But presentation still matters. And even today, in an age when we’re all more digital – and perhaps more distant – there’s still a certain power in being able to pick up that collection of bound paper and read those first lines. There’s a sense of wonder in the discovery of a great book that no digital device can yet duplicate.
And yet we seem all too happy to turn that experience over to the cloud. Even the buying of books, let alone the reading of them, isn’t the social experience it used to be. I’ve been around long enough to see too many brick-&-mortar bookstores go the way of dust, and I miss them. Bookstores are my favorite hangouts – if I can get away with it, I’ll spend hours getting lost in them. I’ll grant you that we still have a few to go around, but any bookstore’s death still diminishes me. And even libraries have fallen to the digital invasion, with all those internet computers in every room. It’s an entirely different atmosphere now, and I can’t help believing we’ve lost something in the process.
Can that be reversed? Am I even asking for that? I don’t know. Maybe all of this is just me getting older and seeing the world change around me while I remain me.
Or maybe, like my hero, I just love books – not just the words, but the vessels that contain them – and love them enough to want to see them outlive me.
I can’t be alone in that…