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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Turning the Page

When we moved to our house years ago, it took three floor-to-ceiling cupboards in the corner of our 1956 family room to hold our stereo components, a collection of old record albums and a toppling stack of VCR tapes. Now, tiny IPods contain all our music; slim DVDs include the few movies we’ve bothered to buy—cable, Pay-Per-View and video streaming provide most of what we watch. As a result, last year we transitioned the top cupboard to storage and the bottom two morphed into my desk. As it shrinks, technology grants us welcomed space. However, a future emptiness that hovers on the horizon like a lurking thundercloud, worries me.

On the other side of our room, two lower cabinets reside beneath a double set of bookshelves reaching to the ceiling. Bulging photo albums occupy the lower containers—pseudo antiques—as every picture we’ve taken in the last several years resides on a thumb-drive or disk. Above those cupboards however, six regularly-replenished double-rows of books line up. When it becomes necessary to stack paperbacks three-deep, we donate to the library, though without exception at purge time, I struggle. “Nope, I can’t get rid of that.”

I part with the books I’ve enjoyed with a yearning regret because letting them go seems less about releasing something that has entertained, and more like erasing history. This is a result of the fact that from the third shelf, I can pull out my yellowing copy of The Thornbirds and turn to page 34 where I first encountered the unique spelling of the name we chose for our daughter. The shelf below it holds The Moon is Always Female by Marge Piercy, in which I read (and re-read) a singular poem that triggered an initial comprehension of how words can conjure an image.

The eight books in the Anne of Green Gables series hold a place of honor, lumped between brass bookends we received as a wedding present—the books themselves a touching Christmas gift from my husband years ago. Those volumes transport me back to junior high school where they lifted me away when my only recourse was to grab a library pass to avoid an eighth-grade bully during study hall.

Leon Uris, Anita Shreve, James Carroll and John Irving live on those shelves too, along with my collection of hard-covers—My Friend Flicka, Robin Hood, Black Stallion, Heidi and Jayne Eyre, all liberated from my family library when my father moved into an assisted living center. Lined up beside a 1938 copy of Jubilee Trail by Gwen Bristow with my grandmother’s book-plate pasted on the inside cover, sits a 1935 edition of National Velvet, which I am always intrigued to see labeled with my grandfather’s name.

I have two books by Amy Wilensky, a writer who more than anyone in recent time encouraged me to practice this craft that brings me joy, side-by-side with more distant inspiration—a pink book of poems by Kathy Martin, a college friend and talented poet who passed away before our senior year. A gift from her parents, it waited on our chairs as we took our seats on graduation day.

All of these books and so many more, touch deep into my core and some day too soon, it will be impossible to add to this collection. For future generations the angst I feel now will be non-existent. The memories provoked by turning the pages of old books like those labeled in my grandparents' names, will drift away once E-Readers and E-books take over. In the meantime, when I read an honest-to-gosh, paper-and-cardboard edition of Home Safe, by Elizabeth Berg, an author that Carol, over at Carol’s Prints kindly recommended to me, I looked up at our bookshelves when I got to this:

“…She talked, too, about how books educate and inspire, and how they sooth souls—‘like comfort food without the calories,’ she said. She talked about the tactile joys of reading, the feel of a page beneath one’s fingers; the elegance of typeface on a page…Books aren’t loud enough; they’re not showy enough; they don’t move quickly enough; indeed they don’t move at all. The require stillness, reflection, imagination, and these things are out of step with the times.”

In my gut, I know that, like IPods and digital cameras, E-books will offer immediacy, ease of acquisition and their own welcome impact, minus a certain physical corner bending. Gazing at my overflowing bookshelves though, I imagine a yawning cavern of dusty shelf space—a place holder for the constant reminder of something we have lost.


rae said...

Great post! You're very right.

In fact, Hubs and I bought a record player and collected cast-off vinyl just so we could experience the reported thrill of those few scratchy seconds when the needle first touches down.

Worth the space it occupies.

glnroz said...

Ms. Liza, that was a good post. I refuse to let paper be replaced altogether. I too shall go by the wayside as printed material, but that will be fine with me.. lol This was fun reading,, and,by the way you are welcome..

Sharon said...

Oh Lisa, what a wonderful tribute to real books. Thanks for this post. There is so much of the physical world that we assimilate through all of our senses. Makes me wonder how this will change the next generation.

I've definitely got to read Elizabeth Berg. The only part of my love affair with real books not mentioned in her quote, is their rainbow of scents, from the vague mustiness of old worn volumes, to the crisp pungent perfume of fresh ink on pristine paper in the volumes newly arrived.

Andria said...

So, so true. I will often download a book that I know will be just a quick read, one that I won't want to keep, but I still buy so many books that I may want to keep.

Thank you for your lovely post!

Helen Ginger said...

We've got so many books, I need to cull them. We're also about to empty out a storage unit we have and I know there are boxes of books in there. I'm rather dreading doing it, but it will have to be done.

Straight From Hel

Robin said...

I know I am on vacation (what am I doing reading my blogs???). I am an addict needing my fix, I guess. This topic actually came up recently between mom and I on a more diverse scale.... just that everything is moving faster and all things seem to eventually become obsolete. I still don't do e-books. I just can't bring myself to go there. I know that a day will come when it will be the only choice. I just hope that it is so far into the future that I am not here to see it!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

And thus book stores will go the way of record stores, too.

Still not getting rid of my books though.

Tabitha Bird said...

I don't know Liza. Call me old fashioned and perhaps a little silly, but I think books will always be around in hard copy. Even if they are not the most popular way to read. There is something powerful about actually holding pages between your hands. And here in Australia no one I know has an e-book reader thingy and no one wants one. People here think they are a waste of money when you can go by a tone of books for the cost of one of those i-reader things. That isn't to say that will not change. I am sure they will gain some popularity. But at the end of the day having a real book to hold, share and cuddle isn't going to completely vanish. I don't think anyway. I may be wrong.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Aw, so glad to have been able to lead you to something you enjoyed! I just love Elizabeth Berg.

And yes, I understand what you mean entirely. I think about how empty my life would have been without my books growing up, how at the worst and best of times, I found them to be a comfort and a pleasure. Always, always a gift. It makes me sad to see how little some people read. I'm not a huge fan of the latest gadgets either. I fought my husband on cell phones and a DVD player.

But there's no going back, is there? That does make me a little sad. I can only image what it must be like for my grandparents.

Simon C. Larter said...

Ah, I can't imagine life without the paper book. Just the scent of them is enough to make me happy. There won't be any sense of history with the e-versions--we won't be able to wonder whose fingers last touched the page of that book we picked up second-hand.

I don't think the printed book will disappear entirely, just as 8-tracks and LPs remain collectors' items, but I will miss the memories that come with a well-worn paperback novel. Somehow pixels don't seem quite so warm, no matter how beloved the words.

Lovely post, good lady.

prashant said...

Worth the space it occupies.
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