Monday, January 24, 2011

Person of the Book?

"People of the Book," by Geraldine Brooks, is the fascinating story of one book's travel through history. If you haven't had the pleasure of reading it, I highly recommend it. Although fiction, the story is based on the "Sarajevo Haggadah" and how it came to rest at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.This haggadah, or prayer book, containing scripture and songs and rituals for Passover Seder, is said to have survived fire, war, Nazis, and museum thieves.

It survived because of the people who protected it.

The "Sarajevo Haggadah"

I am not a Luddite. Or rather, I've worked hard to avoid being labeled as one. I text my children and friends. I know how to use my cell phone camera to send pictures around cyberspace. I use computers and facebook and digital cameras and apps and programs and such. For heaven's sake, I'm even "Linkedin". What's more, I'm here in Blogland, right? Right. I am NOT a Luddite.

Sarajevo Haggadah Illumination

Then why am I so conflicted? Well, I'm a paper crazy, page sniffing, tactile book lover, that's why.
Many of my friends have gotten electronic readers recently. The Kindle, to be exact.  And I'm not on board with it.  

My resistance has nothing to do with technology. In fact, many of these friends who now have Kindles have trouble navigating facebook.  I'm light years ahead of them when it comes to using the 21st Century tools of communication. Something is wrong with this picture.

I don't want to tote stone tablets around. I don't care for papyrus, or wish to write with a quill pen. I don't even remember the last time I needed a postage stamp or wrote a paper check.

I just want my books. Is that okay? 

When we were little girls, my twin sister was obsessed with books. She carried her favorites with her at all times, tucked under her little arm like a schoolgirl, which we were as yet too young to be. As we got older, she would share with me what she found fascinating about choosing books. The stories, yes, to be sure, but it was about more than the words on the page. It was the entire experience. The size of the book mattered. The spine mattered. The size of the print mattered. But more than anything else, it was the paper on which the words were printed that mattered the most.

Joyce taught me to be a paper snob. Through her, I learned to choose the books that would end up on my shelves wisely. To pick them up and feel their heft in my hands. To open the front cover and determine if it were a first edition. To notice the shade of white, cream, or ivory the paper might be. To run my fingers down the page and feel it. Yes, to smell it, too. I suppose that what I learned from Joyce was a reverence of books, and of the process of creating them.

That reverence has never left me. Among my love for digital cameras, facebook, electronic banking, and all the other wonderful tools of our time, sits my love for actual honest-to-goodness books. What's to become of me?

Will I ever be able to tuck a Kindle into my carry-on bag before a trip with the same excitement I feel for selecting the book/s that will accompany me? Will I ever approach a Kindle with the same feeling of warmth and love as I approach my book shelves?

Mark Twain may have said it best (as he often did) when he said, "In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them." Oh, yeah. Wisdom by osmosis. Does wisdom by Kindle osmosis exist?

 I'm on board the technology train, I really am. I just can't bring myself to want a Kindle. Does anyone else struggle with this? 

The Amazon Kindle

Today, I wish you a pleasant read from a great book.


  1. Jo~ you are light years ahead of me in texting but boy do I relate to a good old fashioned book. When I was young Amelia Earheart and Nancy Drew could take me to the farthest corners of my imagination. I so love BOOKS! Have a great day! LOVE...

  2. Yes, Vicki! I was a huge Nancy Drew fan. I could still be spooked by thinking about "The Mysterious Half Cat"!!

    You have a great day, too. Thank you for the morning smile. xoxo

  3. Oh man - my sentiments exactly! On the one hand, I believe this is the way things are going - save a tree, read electronically.

    And yet - I like paper, the heft of a book. I like to literally flip through the pages. It's a real dilemma!

    I didn't know about the haggadah - how beautiful it is and how cool that it was cherished and protected. I love that.

  4. Reya, I know you don't read much fiction, but this fiction is as close to factual as it can be. I'd rather call it "Faction". Did I just coin a phrase? Probably not, but the novel is really fact-based conjecture on what happened to this unique haggadah. You'd LOVE the story.

    I agree with you about reading electronically. It makes so much sense in many ways. I'm just not ready yet to abandon my books. sigh.

  5. i was just having this conversation with my husband this past weekend. he was telling me about the nook and asked if i was interested in an e-reader, and i said no. not really. not unless i'm going on a long trip -- then i can see its place, saving me from lugging around heavy books.

    otherwise i'm with you, jo. there's no substitute for that tactile experience of turning a page.

  6. Yes, Amanda...unless it's a very long trip. A steamer trunk full of books comes to mind. An e-reader would certainly come in handy then.

    Thank you for stopping by and weighing in on the subject (no pun intended)!

  7. Oh, my. Memories of "the Floyd Twins." Wonderful. Jo, we were fortunate in our early education to have an actual, if small, school library. Was it Johnson Elementary? In my head, I can see the spine and covers of the "Little House" series of books, which I adored.

    Get this: I love books and libraries and bookstores, yet I am a woefully slow reader. Getting worse, I'm afraid, as I grow older.

    This did not stop me, however, from returning to graduate school in my 50s to earn a second master's degree, this time in Library & Information Science from the University of Illinois. As you can imagine, most of my classmates were 30+ years younger than me and almost all of them were literally raised on technology. Yet so many of these "youngsters" still love the physical sense of books, yes, real books. I always will.

    Your recommendation for People of the Book encourages me to give it a try. I am not usually a big fiction reader, but this one will be a valuable reading experience, I'm sure.

    Thanks, as always, for your poignant posts.

  8. Jan, two master's degrees, one in Library & Information Science? I'm in awe.

    Yes, it was Johnson Elementary, and I remember its sweet little library, too. Perfect for grade schoolers. I go into my grandson's school (he's in 2nd grade)and the library looks like Ruskin High School's! I don't know how children avoid being overwhelmed these days, but they seem to take the enormity of it in stride.

    Brava on your accomplishments, Jan! I suspect you are thorough reader, not a slow one. I, too, like to relish the words, the style, and the structure of what I read.

    Thanks for your very kind words...and I do think you'll enjoy "People of the Book."

  9. Jo, et al: Books will never be replaced. I'm convinced. I love the feel of the page, the binding, the texture of different papers. I'm not alone. Nothing will replace the experience of a book on the lap or on the table. Never. God save us.

    But Kindles are cool. Technology is improving. You know how many people read the Times on their phones now? Scads.

    We really don't have to give it that much thought. We won't recognize the electronic landscape within two years. We'll laugh at today's technology as if it were stone age jokes.

    Some even suggest it will all happen with neural implants. Meet me at Preregrine's to discuss!

  10. I agree, Dubby. Within a short time, the electronic landscape will change. I hope you're right about books remaining with us.

    I think I will always be fond of books. I love books in general, but there are a few books that are absolute treasures in my life. Can a loving inscription ever be written on the inside cover of an e-reader?

    Neural implants? Yikes!

    Thank you for visiting, Dubby.

  11. I so love books and to read. I still have my Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books and was able to share them with my daughter...very cool. My leatherbound, gilt edged collection of classics occupies a prominent spot in my home and over the years I have enjoyed returning to them again and again like a comfortable pair of slippers.

    For the past couple of years I've resisted the 'siren song' of the Kindle. I was appalled at the idea initially, but then I began thinking of the possibilities of being able to download ANY book I desired at the speed of light. I am now officially a Kindle Whore.

    I'll always have proper books around me, but now I can indulge my reading habits and not feel obligated to keep every book that has ever come into my posession. Trust me, I think I have every book I've every owned except the ones I loaned out and didn't get back. With my new little device I can bookmark (without dog earing) and highlight and make notes on a particular passage; something I would never have considered with a 'real' book!

    I also believe that any device that enables people to easily access books in any format is a good thing. I will draw the line at audio books!

    Love your blog Jo. I look forward to reading it everyday.

  12. Thank you, Linda! Hmmm...indulging my habit while not being obligated by it. I LIKE that!

    I'm getting there, slowly but surely. I'm just now beginning to allow myself to consider the e-reader something other than heresy!

    You, as always, are way ahead of me, Linda. xoxo


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