I was going to write about the importance of books but decided instead to consider the broader value of the printed word.
My favorite reading chair:
Periodicals (magazines and newspapers) often help to inform us about current events, and political pamphlets usually provide us with material suitable for making paper airplanes. Then there are business and personal letters, including those charming, if somewhat archaic, communications called thank-you notes. I remember vaguely a chapter from our grammar and composition textbook my freshman year in high school, a chapter that explained how to write “bread & butter notes.” We’d need a time machine to see those things again. Of course, almost all of the above are now available as e-mails or eBooks, but as I’m probably a bit behind technologically, I still refuse to include text messaging as actual reading or writing material, as it remains for me only the merest abbreviation of conveying thoughts and ideas. It is the polyester of communication and the Esperanto of language itself, as artificial as a plastic turkey on Thanksgiving Day.
East wall of my library:
The joy of reading books, for most of us, goes back to childhood. For me that joy began when I was three years old with the gift from my maternal grandparents in 1949 of The Young Folks Shelf of Books, a ten-volume set, beautifully bound and illustrated “Junior Classics,” which were read to me over time and became the early basis for my love of literature, distilled at last in my favorite book from those early years, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham. I still have all those books, and in case of fire, I would take them from the house only after saving the cat and dog first. The books’ pages have yellowed over time and retain the smells of old cedar chests, wooden bookshelves, and dusty attics, sensory bonuses I can never have in the many eBooks I also enjoy reading. Having those added sensory experiences from paper books is already an old defense. I do like the convenience of eBooks but still love the nostalgic bliss of holding a book bound in leather, or even paper. I even like the sound of pages turning, which I understand is now an electronic feature in some new eBooks. Our world is becoming more virtual every year.
People can derive pleasure and knowledge through reading everything from The Old Testament of the Bible to stories by Stephen King (both these examples of literature often being strangely alike). Reading is generally a personal experience in a kind of temporary retreat from the hustle and bustle of the outside world (even if perusing the newspaper on a crowded subway). Curling up with something to read is perhaps timeless in some ways, going back to little stone tablets that were the first books, to the parchments and handwritten illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages before Gutenberg’s printing press. I’ve seen teenagers “curled up” with their laptops, engrossed in reading. This gives me hope for books and literature in general, whatever forms they may take. Reading can enlighten, entertain, and inspire, and one of my greatest hopes is that schools, along with parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, can keep the love of reading vigorous in young people everywhere. Our young people, after all, are our future authors. JB