Friday, December 18, 2015

On physical books

Here is an article discussing how the absence of physical books and records (or tapes or CDs) in modern houses can affect the exploration of the world by the young.  If your folks or your friends or the other people you interact with don't have books and stuff lying around, you're not likely to be exposed accidentally to new cultural influences that you didn't know about before.  With a plethora of movies and books and music on-demand in a personalized cloud, you are exposed mainly to what you already know.  This leaves a lot less space in the world for the sort of idle pondering, confronting novel ideas, and generally fortunate accidents that inspire broad, critical, adventurous thinking.  That's a shame.

A delight for me in the past few years has been to go through my dead father's old stuff, especially his book collection from college, which sat dormant in our basement for decades.  I am now able not only to read what he read, see what shaped his mind when he was a young man becoming away of a wide, awake world beyond the bounds of his humble upbringing.  No, I even get to see his margin notes, notice what he highlighted, what struck him most when he was half the age I am now.  None of this would be possible had he done all his college reading on a Kindle and disposed unceremoniously of the pdf files once he was done reading them.

I recently read "The Constant Gardener" by John LeCarré, an author I got into a few years ago when I finally picked up some of my dad's old books of his that I'd seen around the house for over 20 years but had never ventured to read.  It isn't by any means one of LeCarré's best; its tone is very different from much of his earlier work, replacing quiet, impotent ambiguity that grinds through apathetic systems, with a crusading moral certainty that fights against evil vested interests.  But it adds one more piece to the mosaic of the author's lifelong opus; not every book has to or even can be the best, but each one is its own contribution to the author's (and the reader's) conception of the world.  Again, I would not be as aware of this opus if I didn't have physical books with a list of the author's other works on the inside jacket.  And had my father simply read this on a Kindle while he was dying, I probably wouldn't have known that it was the last book he finished.  As is, even though my copy is just from the library, I could share vicariously with my father as I read through the plot's twists and turns, just as the book's protagonist follows in the footsteps of his dead wife as he takes up her search for the truth.

No comments:

Post a Comment