Well, the new year has barely begun, and I’ve been thinking about and beginning to act on my reading. In fact, I received a magazine in yesterday’s mail that included two thought-provoking articles about books and reading. I got two books as Christmas gifts, both history related. And I’m sure that my writing and researching during 2019 will involve a lot of reading on many different topics, to say nothing of the numerous books I’ll read throughout the year for, well, just the enjoyment of it.
First, I like to write in my books. I underline key points. I started that habit in college, marking my textbooks so I could review main points quickly, and I’ve continued the habit ever since. Second, I found that underlining books made it easier when, after researching a book, I returned to it to write an article about the topic. Third, When I was reviewing books for Provident Book Finder magazine, I underlined possible quotable material to include in the reviews I would write. If I disagreed with the author, I “argued” with him or her in my marginal notations. I can’t do any of that with the Kindle.
More importantly, I just like the feel of a real book in my hands. I love the smell of the ink on the pages. I love the “heft” of a deep and thought-provoking written work. It’s sort of like the “feel” and weight difference between a plastic squirt gun and a 1911 .45 semiautomatic. You know one is just a plaything, but the other means serious business.
The two articles about books that I mentioned earlier said essentially the same thing in a more esoteric way. Books activate the imagination. They take us on journeys to times and places we could never go in reality. They help us see the rest of the world through others’ perspectives and thereby increase our ability to sympathize. Some of them have even been good enough to influence history. They make us think and increase both our vocabulary and our storehouse of knowledge. They help us see ourselves, mankind, as we really are. The good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.
But can’t an e-book or a magazine article do the same things? you might ask. Sure they can. But then there’s the pesky matters of the “feel” and the lack of permanency. Years from now, you won’t discover an old e-book in a used bookstore and feel the excitement the way you do when you find a rare old tattered hardcover book. If you happen across an old Kindle, by that time the technology will have moved light years ahead of that piece of junk and it will be useless. Not so with a “real” book! And a magazine article’s life span is a mere matter of weeks, not generations like a good book. People flip through a magazine, toss it on their coffee table, where it stays for a few weeks, and then the next person who dusts tosses it into the garbage. Not so with a book.
In Rick Bragg’s words, “It’s not just the stories, but the physical book, the way I feel when I see the spines, when I read the titles, the very feel of the paper under my fingers as I turn the pages. . . . Every book comes alive in my mind. I like to be in that company.”
Now let’s see. I have three books in progress at this moment and five stacked on a shelf awaiting my attention. That doesn’t include the unnumbered ones I still haven’t read that are on my Kindle. And I’ll add many others, both real and “virtual,” throughout the year. So many books, so little time! It’s already January 5. I’d better get started!