books that burn turn into torches

Read an interesting article in the NYT blog by Tim Parks, “E-Books Can’t Burn“. It’s a good read, but the comments impressed me even more than the post itself: such passion on either side! Surely a sign of paradigm change, except as usual it isn’t clear where we’re going. Of course, the paper-based hardliners don’t show up on the blog, only those who swing both ways.

It seems to me that the original article missed out on the community aspect of electronic reading: in my life as a writer and reader of English literature and texts who doesn’t live in an English-speaking country, this aspect has almost come to dominate my literary experience: the ability to comment; to post material and have it be seen and read almost instantly; communities of friends springing up around reading and writing (e.g. Fictionaut, Red Lemonade etc.) Annotations no longer only in the margin. Of course, it can all get too much.

In my own e-book reading practice, I use mobile devices (I own both a Kindle and an iPad) for reading on the go, rarely very focused, or to check (free) first chapters and samples, or to keep books with me that I might want to look at, or as a repository for books that I might want to read once but not ever again (and therefore I don’t want to own them). But my central reading experience must still be visceral, and it is based on physically owning books that I love, too.

As an avid reader and writer I still remain split right through the middle regarding the ebook or print book question (the “or” is, I think, generally overrated): I carry both paper and portable. Sometimes I wake up in the morning with the taste of a printed page in my mouth…not that I’m in the habit of licking paper, but my entire metabolism grew in the midst of a large collection of paper-based books and my being grew towards them. So much so that I physically feel the need to go into book stores or libraries sometimes just to be around books. Though I am beginning to feel the same about online scents and sensations: the need to see what’s been written, said, played online has been such a strong factor in my life over the past 20 years that I can hardly remember a world without it. And you can’t either probably?

I remember my father in the 1980s handing me a book that my grandfather had kept hidden from the Nazis. It made it the more precious because it could have been burnt but this particular copy hadn’t been burned, you see. The fact that it might have burnt made it so valuable to him, to me, and even to all of you who haven’t even held it, because I think you know what I’m talking about: the book was printed freedom, pure passion, a force, not just a collection of flammable material plus words. Books that burn turn into torches.

As this summary of 14 (!)  book burnings throughout history shows (see all photos on this page), book burning has been almost a sport for more than a thousand years. Who knows what it’d do to society if the burning would be replaced by Dr Strangelove’s press of a button?

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” —Ray Bradbury

2 thoughts on “books that burn turn into torches

  1. Pingback: Bi — An Aotearoa Affair Blog Carnival | Frankfurt Bookfair 2012: A blog test affair

  2. Pingback: Bi — An Aotearoa Affair Blog Carnival | An Aotearoa Affair

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