Friday, 19 February 2010
Words on paper
Just arrived: a paperback with blue, shiny covers. So bluuuuue! So shiiiiiny! The first delight is childlike (I could almost eat it too). This is the academic journal whose articles I laboured for much of last year to translate from French. So, nowhere near the thrill of an authored book, of course, but still astonishingly satisfying to hold in my hands the tangible result of my work, the bound pile of pages covered with words I chose.
It’s a timely reminder that writing and images on the Web or on an electronic reader cannot replace the book as enduring physical repository of knowledge, speculation or imagination or as object of so-sweetly combined aesthetic, sensual and intellectual gratification to producer and consumer alike. As I handle the book, my thoughts, my skill - in a small but important sense, my self – assume reality and significance for me. I worked to produce something, and here it is. I think we’re hard-wired to need this. For a moment I feel purposeful and grounded in a manner troublingly withheld by the prevailing online, globalised, placeless, timeless experience of life, multifarious and alluring as it is.
What a complex object a book is - a totem, perhaps, as much as a receptacle and tool. Should they cease one day to be printed, I think we’d be doing away with much more than we might realise. Must remember next time I stand in a huge chain bookshop thinking, ‘ugh, too many, too similar, what for?!’ that, even now, a lot of those shiny, piled tomes hold part of someone’s soul.