My son recently completed the persuasive essay unit in his third grade writing curriculum. Against my advice, though true to his reactionary heart, and anyway determined not to join the consensus against polluting, he decided to try and argue the case of books over Nooks (or Kindles, or iPads, or whatever it is we’re all going to be reading in the future, between Googling ourselves). I have this argument a lot with myself, and I always lose, so when he asked me if I could contribute a quote, I ended up mumbling half-heartedly something about how when you are reading your Nook by the pool, you could drop it, or when you are drinking and reading, the two could get mixed up, and either way, there goes your vacation. Something like that. It’s not a great argument. In a couple of years those e-readers are going to be cheaper than the very massive hardcovers which fill up our suitcases today. And they’ll probably be selling them in hotel lobbies, or even poolside. And they’ll probably be waterproof.
He ended up rhapsodizing soulfully (but persuasively?) about the sensory pleasures of holding a book. That was point one. For point two he invoked the debatable benefits of being able to write notes to yourself in the margins; this option already exists for most readers in clickable windows, still I don’t think it will be very long before some dexterous developer figures out a way to scribble as wantonly as you could ever want.
But sharing? He was wise to save this question for his conclusion - and a rousing call to books this finally was. Because isn’t that kind of the point of them? We pass these messages on. We find them in strange places. At discounts. For free. We think they may conceivably move someone, as they have moved us. Often we’re wrong. But the fact of even guessing at our mutual interests, and acting on it, becomes a very different sort of gift when it needs to be brokered – for $14.99 at that.
Plus I can’t imagine how even the cleverest designer would endeavor to preserve the incidental record of places – and people – a book has ever visited. My particular edition of Let the Celebrations Begin! I found a few weeks ago at a store in my neighborhood which is like one of those animal shelters that swears off euthanasia. It may have been sitting there for years. Since it’s not a very promising title, I’ll grant you, or welcoming cover - though I’ve always perked up a little at the celestial reappearances of Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas, two Australians known for cheerfully writing and illustrating their way through some pretty uncomfortable topics. Here it’s the Holocaust – no kidding – and more specifically the band of women and children in hut 18 of a nameless Nazi concentration camp who set about planning for the celebration which they are convinced is only right around the corner. The allied soldiers are coming – “everyone says so!” narrates Miriam, the one among the children who is old enough to even remember the toys and chicken dinners in another life, and makes herself a mission of welcoming the younger ones back to their future. This is an education certainly for children who are ready, and an inspiration whether you’re ready or not, but I’ll let this book’s previous owner weigh in with her impressions, and thank her for leaving them behind:
I think this book shows how people are basically good and kind hearted even in the worst possible surroundings.”