In Celebration of Physical Books
Technology is amazing, but nothing can compare to an actual book
“The book revolution, which from the Renaissance on taught men and women to cherish and cultivate their individuality, threatens to end in a sparkling cloud of snippets…For some of us, books are intrinsic to our human identity.”
— John Updike
Malala Yousafzai’s memoir is unsurprisingly filled with life lessons, bits of inspiration, and quotes. One that really stuck with me was:
“I know the importance of education because my pens and books were taken from me by force.”
Malala never took her schooling for granted, but it really is true that most of us don’t appreciate something until it is gone. We take our health, our relationships, and our youth for granted until we no longer have it. The same is true of books.
We have the complete collection of all human knowledge available at all times in our pockets and on our desks and we simply shrug. We use our futuristic technology to play games, take photos of our meals, and say snarky things about someone on television.
Outside of watching a DIY video on home improvement, when was the last time you actively sought to learn something truly beneficial online? I’m no better. Even when I find something incredible — like this Andrew Carnegie speech from 1885 — I too often bookmark it for later so I can check out Twitter.
Some of the greatest literary works in human history are available for free, yet so few of us ever take the time to even start them. They’re out there, but they’re also buried with everything else online and are quickly forgotten or passed over.
Perhaps actual books have become so much more important to me in recent years because I went through a period where I no longer had any. A decade ago, I sold my collection to help with the purchase of my first home and while I don’t regret that decision — I lived there for ten years — I wish I had found another way, because I’ve only replaced about half of them and, even then, they’re not the actual books I had cultivated a relationship with, just mere replicas. I remember reading certain books at certain places, but those books are gone. Sold for far too little.
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I’m not obstinate. I own a Kindle and use it. I also love audiobooks. But there is something about a physical book — the look, the feel, the weight, the smell, just the entire presence of it — that is lost in the digital age. E-books are fickle (ask anyone that has had to format one). They need to be kept in cases and have their batteries charged and, if you want to read it outside, you need anti-glare protection. If you take it to the beach, be careful it doesn’t get sand or water in it. And don’t spill something on it or drop it face down or leave it in the sun too long!
Real books don’t have any of those problems. Theodore Roosevelt took several books with him on the River of Doubt Expedition through the Amazon. A Kindle would have been destroyed within a few hours.
Plus, it makes reading feel like a separate activity, as it should be.
Reading a book on a screen is physically the same as everything else you read on a screen — work, social media, clickbait articles, etc. Plus, as Ryan Holiday, who values books more than anyone, has put it, “porn is always just one click away.” When you sit down to open an actual book, you’re invested in the story or the topic. More importantly, they’re just better for your health.
A book has literally changed my life. I don’t think it would have had the same impact electronically. I carried it with me for a few weeks even after I had finished it, flipping back through and rereading my favorite passages, and just enjoying the entire work as a whole. By comparison, most of the books I read on Kindle are novels, usually popular ones, because I probably won’t be taking notes or wanting to go back to it again later.
“I got news for you: if it weren’t for the toilet, there would be no books.”
— George Costanza
Many people look at books and think, “That’s too much work.” They have other, often easier, things on which they choose to direct their attention. But that’s the point. It’s exercise for your brain. If you take the time and energy to focus on a book, you deserve to get something more out of it than a person that is watching a reality show with one eye open and potato chip crumbs on their shirt.
New research suggests that people love the idea of libraries far more than they love actual libraries. They want them to have fewer books in favor of meeting spaces and 3D printers. But would it not then cease to be a library?
I don’t blame the libraries, I blame the populace. After all, libraries are only following society’s lead. Companies that make backpacks are facing a world in which students no longer lug books around. But, regardless of technological innovations and trends, actual books continue to hold a revered place in our society. Maybe that’s why their sales are rebounding. Countless CEOs have attributed their success to their book collections.
Be honest: what do you think to yourself if you see a person always carrying a book? What about the kid in school whose backpack was so crammed with books you were afraid he was going to topple over? Personally, I never fully trusted a student with an empty backpack.
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Visually, they’re like small works of art. Books look cool. Libraries are beautiful. Even in a home, they bring their own aesthetic appeal. It’s easier to show books than read them, so we display them and use them as decorative items, something that doesn’t happen with other media. There are no coffee table DVDs. People just like to have books around. If someone has a lot of books, you have immediate notions about them. Pablo Escobar, the world’s most notorious outlaw, who had so much money that he lost $2.1 billion annually and spent $2,500 per month on rubber bands to hold all his cash, was known to display thick and important books in his home that he never opened in an attempt to show his intelligence. Books accomplished this while making $420 million per week did not.
If books weren’t so great, why would so many people pretend to be so well-read?