Monday, November 20, 2006

For the Love of Books

I've finally gotten a chance to read all of David Mehegan's November 15 article in the Boston Globe on books, in which he manages to meld the BPL exhibit on John Adams' library (which I still haven't been to see, for shame), the Boston Book Fair, a new "reading" device from Sony, and Barack Obama (you'll just have to read the whole thing to see how he does it).

Mehegan writes "In all its variety, the Adams exhibit demonstrates the complexity and power of books. It also suggests questions so elemental that they're almost never asked. Why do books have such power over us, anyway? And why do books, as a human artifact, never become obsolete?"

There's some excellent material here, from a discussion of the physical endurance of books to the unwillingness/discomfort of reading a book on a computer screen (I particularly like a quote from Sara Nelson of Publisher's Weekly about the physical process of reading: "There's a feeling that you're moving through something. I'm reading a fat book now, and I'm 280 pages into it. The process of accumulating pages under my left thumb gives me a clear sense of having traveled a certain distance. It's as if I'm halfway through the world this author has created.")

I can't say I agree with Thomas Horrocks, a librarian at Harvard, who told Mehegan he thinks people will eventually become entirely accustomed to reading electronically. I think - and this was one of the things that the panel at the Book Fair discussed on Saturday - we'll see a distinction increasingly made between "sustained" reading (novels, monographs, biographies, even long articles) and "reading for information" (newspaper articles, blog posts, search results, etc.). I know I make that distinction in my own life, and I suspect many others function at least somewhat similarly. I haven't ever found an electronic tool that can give me the same pleasure of reading as a book can ... and I seriously doubt I ever will.

Do take a minute and read Mehegan's article if you haven't had a chance, it's certainly worth it.

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