in praise of books

I’m a big fan of the Internet, spending hours a day online, for fun as well as work. I don’t have a Kindle or any other electronic text reader, but I’m sure that I’ll read novels and nonfiction books on a digital device some day. Many of the advantages of books can be replicated with electronic devices. Yet I want to say a few words in favor of the old-fashioned codex.

It doesn’t bug you with urgent needs to be updated, upgraded, or recharged. It doesn’t even ask to be opened. If you leave it alone, it doesn’t bother you.

It looks good on a shelf.

It stays the same for decades, so that if you reopen a volume that was important to you when you were young, all the letters and pictures and stains and folds are still there to reconnect you to your past.

You’re allowed to give it away, mark it up, lend it, trade it. If you throw it away, there’s no ghostly version still in your house. It’s really gone.

It’s hard to destroy. Sure, you can lose your copy of a book, or spill tomato soup all over it. But once a pile of copies is printed and distributed, no government censor or computer virus can find them all and wipe them out.

It’s self-reliant. No one has to remember to pay the monthly hosting fee, keep it plugged in, or upgrade it to the new operating system. It just patiently waits to be opened.

Its design is redolent of a particular time and place. No one can decide that the font looks dated and try to make it look current.

It’s long–long enough to absorb you and take you out of your own world. External noises and events can interrupt you, but the book itself will not. It will let you read all the way through, if you have the time for it.

It has a smell, a weight, and a texture. It has been handled by other people. It has been places.

It was finished (or abandoned). There was a point of closure, a decision to stop. It is not “under construction.” Its pages are finite. You can finish it and know that you’ve read it.

Someone else has written it. You can escape with it into another person’s consciousness. It isn’t generated or shaped by your demographic background, browsing history, or revealed preferences. It doesn’t keep you trapped in a hall of mirrors where you keep seeing distorted views of yourself.