Obiter Dictum

Notes on the adventure of life.

Books are where words go to die.

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Maybe it’s a sign that I am getting old, the fact that I can’t seem to accept the impending reality of paper books being replaced by digital ones. Just sitting those two words – ‘digital’ and ‘book’, side by side jars my mind.  Yet with the iPad and Kindle marching their armies across the publishing landscape, it’s just a matter of time. And while intellectually it makes sense – trees, wastage, saving the planet and all that – the phrase ‘digital book’ still sounds like murder to me.

Those that read, not just occasionally but every God-given day because they simply have to, will understand: books have souls. They are entities that, from the moment they are chosen, become – for better or worse – part of the reader. From that first tentative grasp, its weight in your hand, fingertips drifting across the cover, pages flicked to release their smell of promise into the air, those are the magic first moments of a book.

And what about those winter nights, curled up in bed feathered kilometres deep, nose, eyes and fingertips the only body parts sacrificed to read us to sleep? Or those lazy long summer afternoons, toes wriggled in the grass, eyes squinting at white vapour trails in an endless blue sky, book dreamily discarded on our chest?

What about tattered covers and corners bent to little ears, beacons to where we’re heading next; what about loosening spines and spilling pages that must be carefully saved until it’s their turn. And what about feeling those last few pages paper thin between our fingers, and reading ever slower, our heart pounding us toward the end of a journey.

What about all that?

Then reading this passage in an article recently, like watching a racehorse well past its prime and beyond usefulness, lead to the slaughter: “…there is now the possibility of disembodying books, separating them from their paper form, abandoning the whole idea of a single form. Once it is a digital file, a book may be transferred from one device to another or from one reader to another with ever fewer technical or economic constraints. In what ways does this technological disembodiment amount to a major change in the history of publishing?”

Technical disembodiment.  I shudder reading those words. I think of friends who have published books, of all their dark lonely nights tapping away toward perfection. I think of how they pondered paper type and cover image, chapter lay-out, photo quality and print run. Does not therein too lay the soul of a book? And what will be left if form is separated from paper, if it is sacrificed piece by piece to be thrown from device to device?

So I must let go, of cherished first print-runs and autographed copies, of coarse paper yellowed with age, of underlined sentences and scribbled margins. I must let go of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, of prized purchases trailing travels across the world, of exotic little gems passed lovingly to friends.

I must let go of all that for luminous letters on an iPad and Gigabytes on a hard drive?

Sorry Mr Jobs. This time I ain’t taking your side.

Written by sabineclappaert

December 12, 2010 at 5:56 pm

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