And Yet the Books

And Yet The Books

By Czeslaw Milosz

And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are, ” they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.

I love the physicality of books. I love feeling the paper, hefting the weight, stroking the spine, caressing the leather-bound covers . . .

And apparently so did Milosz.

But what does this mean in the age of eBooks? Some one tried to convince me the other day that paper books were obsolete. I wanted to laugh.

And then I saw a 14 month old boy being “well-behaved” by watching TV on his father’s phone. How is that child going to be able to have the tactile and neurological connection needed for hard copy books?

Literature has survived changing forms before. But there is something so beautiful, so real, about books in a large, clunky form that I wonder what – if anything – this new change will mean for the way that literature is read and understood.

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2 thoughts on “And Yet the Books

  1. I’m certainly with you and Milosz; I love the weight of the book even though it means having to take greater care not to damage it. Some people love how eBooks allow them to save on shelf space, but I can’t think of any thing I’d rather fill my house with (leaving, of course, a sizable corner for whiskey et al).

    But it seems to me that the dangers of eBooks go beyond the avoidance of paper, leather, and ink. Behold the boy: ill-equipped, as you say, for those comparatively heavy tomes and all the pages therein (which may be dog-eared, written in, or even fall out – not, thankfully, simply deleted). But more than the connection between child and book, I’m concerned about the dynamic between parent and child. This is what it means for your child to be “well-behaved”? You’ll just plunk your offspring down before the flashing lights and call it good – both his behavior and that situation overall?

    So long as literature is read, it will survive, though it be read on a phone or computer or iPad screen – not without detriment, in my estimation (particularly given the nature of electronic media and what hullabaloo there may be over licensing and legal use and payment options), but I am certainly biased.

    But if parents are not willing to engage with their children about what “good behavior” is and the self-discipline necessary for it, and instead entrust them to whatever the television or web has to offer, there will be far more to mourn than interaction with physical books. Raising one’s children instead of handing them off to the electronic world is, perhaps, weightier and requires more care (and space, and money, and such), but I can’t help but think it should follow the type of having, and reading, and loving, physical books.

  2. Well said, both of you. We seem to be on the same wavelength, comparing this with my most recent post.

    I have been fighting the good fight with regard to my nephews and niece, giving them books at every birthday and Christmas, and reading to them myself whenever they stay the night. They love it, God bless ’em, and I know my sister and brother-in-law are keen on promoting reading. However, the kids have also grown up with movies and television as a way of life, far moreso than literature. In addition to the difference of activity in reading versus watching, there are also the values communicated to consider. Children’s shows tend to be hyper and irreverent, moreso even than in the old Looney Tunes days, and even when they may be legitimately funny they still tend to leave the kids spouting “hip” catch-phrases and mocking adult authority that should be respected. It’s quite worrying.

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