A Case for Books

In my house, I have a library.  It is five IKEA Billy Bookcases long and is constantly growing.  The existence and size of my library seems to be a very polarizing subject.  The reactions usually fall into two buckets:

“Oh my god, I’m so jealous!”
“Oh my god, get a Kindle.”

Those who fall into the first bucket are usually women who still wish to live out a Beauty and the Beast fantasy.  Those who fall into the second bucket simply don’t get it.  From their perspective, if I love books so much, naturally, I would want to have a novel at my fingertips at any given moment.  Plus, I can have volumes upon volumes without taking up space in my house.

Again, they don’t seem to get it.

For me, reading a book is an experience.  The tactile side of me embraces the weight of the book and the smell of the pages.  The historian in me loves so much more.

Case Study: A copy of A Christmas Carol inherited from my grandfather.

I love A Christmas Carol.  I read it every year at Christmas time.  While mildly dark and creepy, it’s a traditional tale of learning what the meaning of Christmas truly is.  However, this particular edition is very special to me.

To start, the book was published in 1910.  It’s a 103 year old book.  Think about that for a moment.  103 years old.  The book has outlived the person who published and distributed it.  How many hands have held it?  How many have received joy from scanning its pages?

When I open the inside cover, my grandfather’s signature is scrolled across the top of the page.  Because he is no longer with us, this simple stroke of the pen will forever tug at my heart strings.  Below his signature is the address he lived at, I’m guessing, when he received the book.  Based on the location, a rough estimation brings into light that my grandfather had this book for over 50 years of his life.  How many times did he read it?  Did he read it to my mother and her siblings at Christmas time?  My grandparents don’t keep many books around their house unless they are special or new… why this one?  Maybe he read it every Christmas, like I do now.

Reading the book brings me even closer to him.  Much as I do with my books, my grandfather marked passages that struck him in a particular way and made pronunciation marks on words he was unfamiliar with.  As I read, I not only get to experience the wonderful world of Charles Dickens but also the world of my grandfather.  Knowing that he struggled with the word “residuary” the first time he read the book (as I did) and he was touched by a certain thought in the middle of the book helps draw me closer to understanding and appreciating his intellect and him as a person.

Something I would not have experienced in such a candid way without the passing of a book.

Not everyone reads books the way I do – I understand this.  However, when I pass my books to my future hypothetical children, they will not only get the added element of my notations but of those who read the book before me.  What a rich and intimate experience!

So take a look at my library again.  We know the tales and stories… but think of what added secrets each book holds inside.  A Kindle can pass these secrets along.  Only a book with a pen handy can.  I’ll take that over convenience any day!

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