Anyone who knows me knows I am techno-challenged. And not particularly Anxiously Striving to Catch Up with all the digital whatzits beginning with the prefix i-. I honestly do not know how to check voice mail on my phone. Sorry if you’ve ever left a message!
Therefore it should come as no surprise that I am not jumping up and down over digital-downloaded-e-kindle-whatever-they-all-are books. I just really love the print versions. Mmm-hm. I do. This can make a person feel like a bit of a stodgy dinosaur, however, so I was very pleased/relieved/and yes smugly satisfied to read Roger Sutton’s comments over at ReadRoger, his blog as editor of The Horn Book. http://readroger.hbook.com/2010/10/to-have-and-to-hold.html He is working on a presentation in which he will speak to the peculiar gratification that a hold-it-in-your-hands book can have, especially for young readers, as opposed to a digital version.
If I were working on that presentation, here are some of the things I would say:
There is something comfy and transporting and lovely about curling up with a book that fits in the same category as crackling fires, mugs of tea, well-worn chairs, sunny windows, lazing at the cabin. Partly that is due to a book’s unpretentious physical comforts. A book molds itself to your hands. It flexes with you. You can even curl it around itself, which I admit to doing. A book is forgiving. If you spill lemonade on it , it will simply pucker and warp a bit and keep on giving you good service. If you smear melty chocolate or sun lotion in it, the smudge just becomes part of the book. Metal and glass and plastic technological gadgets, on the other hand, are not romantic. A digital screen is not comfy. It is a workplace, a communication device, an office fixture, a hard, inflexible object carrying with it efficiency and speed, but lacking tolerance for siftings of beach sand or toast crumbs. I am fine with reading the minutes of a meeting on a screen. I want my imagination stirred amid slow, long-suffering, welcoming, pages.
The pages of a book hold more than print. Sometimes they are creamy and new. Ahhhh. A brand new book feels so…untapped, full of promise, luxurious. Highly unusual, in our household! Most of the time the pages are old. Wrimpley. Torn, perhaps, a teensy bit. Stained. Well-thumbed. Loose in the binding. The front pages are marked with a stamp from some tiny library in New Hampshire, or addressed with love to Margaret, Christmas 1968. I love imagining the course a book has traveled before it lands in my possession. If a book is deliciously old, the pages carry a slight, musty, old-book smell. Marvelous. Pages are also progress-markers. Turning the page is an arrival at a further point. You hold the book up from time to time, looking at the wedge of pages already read and the bunch that are left, to sort of exult in your progress, or wonder how things can be wrapped up in such a few pages, or gawp at how far you have left to go.
Though we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, the cover is definitely part of the package. That is why, when the cover art is atrocious, my teen-ager gets out paper and tape and covers the cover! because the experience of the cover ruins the book for her! That is why when we look for an old favorite and discover that the cover has been re-issued, it really doesn’t feel like the same book anymore. That is the joy of a cover that gets it just perfect. Or why some of our book covers are held on with quantities of packing tape, even though the story is all there, even without the cover. Or why we get really bugged when the library sticker covers up part of the cover illustration.
For kids’ books, of course, the illustrations are essential and I am sorry but viewing Shirley Hughes’ Alfie drawings of his sticky blanket and mussed up house on a slick computer screen just does not do it for me. Gazing at the details and colors and textures of Lauren Child’s mixed medias or Kevin Henkes watercolors or Eric Carle’s collages…on a screen? I want to handle them. To peer at them up close. I actually want to cut them out and put them on my wall. But. At least I don’t want to turn my screen on and see them glowing out at me.
There is something restful about a printed page that isn’t connected with the heat and glow and eye-strain of a screen. There is a tiny bit of dominion in taking a pencil and starring the part in Winnie-the-Pooh where Owl tries to spell Buttered Toast because it is your favorite part and the book is your very own. Something enduring in knowing just where on the page Dobby dies.
All this and more are part of a book-that-you-hold. Call me a dinosaur, but for my money, I’ll take a book any day.