Books age, like us

In “My 6,128 Favorite Books” Joe Queenan writes:

Books as physical objects matter to me, because they evoke the past. A Métro ticket falls out of a book I bought 40 years ago, and I am transported back to the Rue Saint-Jacques on Sept. 12, 1972, where I am waiting for someone named Annie LeCombe. A telephone message from a friend who died too young falls out of a book, and I find myself back in the Chateau Marmont on a balmy September day in 1995. A note I scribbled to myself in “Homage to Catalonia” in 1973 when I was in Granada reminds me to learn Spanish, which I have not yet done, and to go back to Granada.

None of this will work with a Kindle. People who need to possess the physical copy of a book, not merely an electronic version, believe that the objects themselves are sacred. Some people may find this attitude baffling, arguing that books are merely objects that take up space. This is true, but so are Prague and your kids and the Sistine Chapel. Think it through, bozos.

The world is changing, but I am not changing with it. There is no e-reader or Kindle in my future. My philosophy is simple: Certain things are perfect the way they are. The sky, the Pacific Ocean, procreation and the Goldberg Variations all fit this bill, and so do books. Books are sublimely visceral, emotionally evocative objects that constitute a perfect delivery system.

Ben Novak wrote this in an email to me a few years ago:

…just having them evokes the experience of reading or studying them. The pages are yellowing, as I am, but the experience of touching them with my hands and eyes is still vivid. They each bear part of my soul on their pages. Their words etched in ink on fading paper are etched on my fading mind as well.

Retronaut’s slogan? “The past is a foreign country. This is your passport.” Physical books are a territory all to themselves, and one whose secrets aren’t easy to translate in the context of electronic culture.