Posted by: atarimonos | March 25, 2010

Books and Bibliocausts

I’ve nearly  completed reading “A Universal History of the Destruction of Books” by Fernando Baez. Interesting read, not bad nor good … thought provoking (something is lost in translation of the book from Spanish to English). The book is akin to an aggregator of historical happenstances from destruction of early Sumerian cuneiform to contemporary book burnings (Baez’s modern example concerns Iraq’s destroyed libraries post-U.S. invasion). In any event the question I have, struggle with, and think about is this: What’s so important about books?

I’m biased, my mother’s a librarian, I’ve surrounded myself with books throughout my life, and there’s something about the printed page that makes me happy. Apparently I missed out on current happenings: the digital age has arrived. Electronic media (video and .pdf) and devices (laptops and kindles) facilitated by the ever-growing internets provide the standard for the modern’s pissing contests: “I see your Blackberry and raise you an iPhone!” Does this bode ill for the printed material? In a word: yes. Am I happy about it: no. But why?

I’ve only the untenable argument of personal opinion to support my conviction that printed media (e.g. newspapers, books, magazines, microfiche,  et. al.) must necessarily be preserved for all persons and times. As I read Baez’s work I continually notice his reliance on his assumed premise/conclusion: books have intrinsic value, that is non-transferable to digital libraries (eg. Million Book Project). Words are words, who cares if they’re printed on a page or more conveniently transferred via .pdf files?  The reader still, one hopes, absorbs and critiques the arguments asserted in the text regardless if s/he holds the original in her hands or reads a text file on her Kindle. Baez holds that books contain a cultures collective memory. If you destroy a book, you destroy a culture’s memory. What if we keep the text and get rid of the physical book? Isn’t partial destruction of a work destruction? (To really nitpick one could pursue the idea of later editions that change the binding style/method of a text, does it take away/add to a work?) … These are idle thoughts by a bibliophile.

I’ll continue this ramble later.  To the links! Immortal Jellyfish may conquer the world by default. Noted Atheist Sam Harris holds that Science can answer moral questions, so long as context is understood. Hmmm I say, hmmm. I Google searched Who Needs Books and that (aforementioned) is what I found. I’m too livid about this old post to even give it proper introduction. Backtracking to preservation of one’s words, what about via DNA encoding? One more: Can a $500 lemon beat $400k rally cars? Yes. Something about rally cars makes me consider the Mongol Rally race. International adventure, under wacky circumstances, slim chance of death (at the very least minor hospital visits), whilst driving a litre cc.engined vehicle? If I can find a team, sign me up.

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Responses

  1. I have no answer to your questions, but several responses to your ponderings:
    I don’t think I have to tell you that I feel the same way about books. There is just something…wonderful…about holding one in your hands and flipping the pages–the feel of the paper, whether it has a dust jacket or not, whether the font is disruptive. Maybe it’s mere aesthetics. Maybe we make a kind of emotional attachment we make to certain editions or certain cover designs. I’m giving away my copy of Ender’s Game and replacing it because I don’t like the cover on the one I have. Does it change the words inside? No. Maybe we’re both nuts. But, in our defense, people care about many stupider, more pointless things in this world…
    Also, I’m probably caving and buying a Kindle before my next international adventure so I don’t have to drag so many books across the world. Still not sure how I feel about that…


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