An Ode to (Physical) Books

I’m not a naïf (in some respects, at least). I realize that eventually print will either cease to exist or become a sort of luxury product, mostly available to those who will collect printed books as they would 50-year old bottles of wine — and have the means to do so. Digitality defines this era, and will do so until, say, quantum computing becomes widely available or e-glasses become a thing instead of a joke. It’ll happen. I have no doubt. The future has always been in the clouds. 

And while I’m no technophobe, for me, the pleasure from cracking the spine of a physical book will never be replaced by my iPhone 14 or iPad 8 or whatever. The same goes for newsprint. My homepage on my iMac Pro — just to authenticate my Apple loyalty — is nytimes.com. But as often as I read it online, it’ll never replace walking out to my Allston stoop, grabbing my paper copy at 6 a.m., then sitting down with coffee and reading through it article by article. I have no desire to do that digitally. I want to feel the paper in my hands, wash the inkprint off said hands afterward, smell the paper. 

The issue here is that of the joining of physical sensation and intellectual stimulation. Take… Heidegger for instance. Notoriously difficult, author of works that must be attacked, rather than read. An author who can puzzle even the most brilliant minds and whose prose is — also notoriously — dense and often frustratingly vague. My copies of “Being and Time”/”Sein und Zeit” are littered with notations from stem to stern, in both languages. I get that you can add notations to e-books, yet the physical act of tracing out your thoughts in an indelible manner gets lost. It’s about the physical sensation of touching paper, writing in something that can’t be erased that’s validating about physical books. I live and work on my laptop and phone, yet derive my greatest pleasure (aside from Arsenal victories and the occasional gentleman friend) from working through an old-fashioned physical book.

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~ by Benji on 6 May 2013.

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