IVP - Addenda & Errata - Kindling Thoughts on Books

February 10, 2009

Kindling Thoughts on Books

This week of February 9 (see here and here ), sees Amazon’s announcement of the imminent release of Kindle 2—thinner, crisper, memorier and synchrier. It’s a sleek looking device, and the consumer in me wants to have one. The Seattleite in me wants to stand proud for Amazon’s prowess. I imagine how my life would be better, so much better, if I had one of those Kindle 2s. And at IVP we’re ramping up our Kindle-ready books. I’m all for it.

But another—older, maybe wiser, yet still susceptible to the strumpets of consumption—part of me says, “I’d only use it for certain books. Like that big, thick Ronald White A. Lincoln biography I got at Costco last weekend, or Obama’s Dreams from My Father that I picked up at Costco the week before! Once I’ve read them, do I really want to store them in “physical” space? Maybe they could smolder away into digital ash on my Kindle and that might be fine.

Maybe. But here’s the thing. Buying the “physical” book, the hearty pulp-and-fiber edition, is something I’m deeply attached to. Is it just a generational thing? Perhaps there’s something to that. But I’ve got to say, that explanation is sounding more and more like a tabloid blurb bling than thoughtful prose.

For one thing, the physical presence of the book reminds me that I need to read that particular book. And its physical bookmark shows me how much more I’ve still got to go to finish it. Like my copy of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, which I’ve been chipping away at for some months now. It beckons to the better reader of my nature every time I pass it on the living room coffee table.

“But Dude! The iPod has taken over the music world! All you need is a list of what’s on your electronic device. Where have all the CDs gone?” Well, I think that’s interesting and something publishers need to pay heed to. But there are some differences. First of all, recorded music has always required some kind of device to play it—radio, record player, reel-to-reel tape recorder, 8-track player, cassette player, CD player. Music has moved from one generation of device to the next. Most of us don’t have quite the same relationship with these media as we do with the medium of the book. (The book is more like sheet music.)

But there is this! Record jackets, liner notes and the like are valued by music lovers. Some collect them. And it’s now very cool to have a collection of vinyl oldies and an old stereo system to play them on. Some even like the sound better. Which leads me to an observation. The very generation that we are led to believe will spurn the book or the CD in favor of the purely digitized and etherized version is the very one that uses the phrase “cool stuff”—and consumes cool stuff as hungrily as anyone their elder.

My point? Whether by nature or nurture, we humans like tangible artifacts. Things we can pick up, feel, handle, place, keep, lose or give away. They remind us of places we’ve been, people we’ve met, eras we’ve lived through, great ideas we’ve embraced and even very bad ideas we’ve tried on (and when they are classically bad, we keep these books). A personal or family library of books can act as an index of experiences and thoughts, of intellectual paths taken, regions of life we’ve explored, ideas we’ve wrestled with. It’s not just wallpaper.

Naturally, I’m speaking for those who take book reading seriously. And I’m not intending to be snobbish. It’s just an observation. When book people’s eyes wander over the shelves of their books, a whole cascade of memories, ideas and plots are evoked from those worn, creased and faded book spines. We recall the back corner of a used bookstore where we discovered that volume, the class in which we first encountered and discussed this author, the excitement with which we anticipated buying and reading that book, the friend who recommended this one, the way in which that book changed our perspective and on and on. I cannot list all the ways that book collections—spine out, colors clashing—play on and enrich the mind. In fact they bring forth thoughts old and new as we encounter them again and again. This is probably part of your experience if you are reading this blog.

And despite all this (see how broad minded I am!), I bear no animus toward Kindle. The prospect of gaining access to thousands of books—including old and out-of-print ones—in the palm of my hand in sixty seconds is a dream come true. I’m just saying that, in the unlikely event that physical books sometime depart from the human scene, there will be a great loss. A loss that the electronic generation of that future world will not easily comprehend. (And even now, some don’t.) Perhaps it will be as difficult as it is for us now to imagine and enter into what it was like to memorize and recite great tracts of the Greek or Hebrew cultural inheritance of poetry and proverbs, sagas and songs.

Posted by Dan Reid at February 10, 2009 8:11 AM Bookmark and Share


I don't know why I want my physical books, but I do.

Those books you want to read but not keep can always be donated to the library (or maybe they already have it and you don't have to buy it).

Comment by: ChrisB at February 14, 2009 1:56 PM

Now.................Please Leave Me Alone...........


Comment by: Rahab Klingensmith at February 16, 2009 5:40 AM

Hopeful they got that mess worked out at one of the churches with much integrity!!! Oh!!!! Alos, the story of Elmbrook loooser church with 3 to 4 Pastors (more of them NOT ordained , than ordained) is true. Miroslav Volf comes to the rescue of a "Forgiveness Seminar" and out of pure shame only the 3 to 4 should up. Not qualified either for even understanding what on earth the central doctrine of the Bible IS about.....waht a bunch of dumbies~laugh on..........or shall I say pray for God to judge....as He already has....yuck oh!!! laugh much a shake my head....walk away in astonishing gasp....."What kind of religion is this???" Sad...........a pathetic , and sad one.....march on Darwin...Your 200th Birthday bash...

miss Rahab, the lovely miss Rahab

Comment by: Rahab Klingensmith at February 16, 2009 6:33 AM

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