An antiquated friend of mine says he doesn’t use electronic book readers because he likes “the feel” of old-fashioned paper books.
I reminded him that, when Johannes Gutenberg used movable type to create the conventional books we were born to, the backward people of Gutenberg’s time dragged their feet.
“I don’t want to read that new style of book” they would whine, “the one with all those paper pages wadded together in big lumps. I prefer the feel of my papyrus scrolls.”
People of today who are like that probably read by kerosene lantern.
(At this point, let me disclose that our family has some of our retirement nest egg in Amazon.com, one of several companies that sell electronic readers. So take what I say with a grain of electronic salt.)
But why am I currently reading a huge, heavy, old-fashioned paper book?
It’s kind of my homage to that rapidly disappearing method of reading. I have spent much of my life lying happily in bed holding a hefty lump of learning or fiction. However, it’s liberating in this new era to lie in bed simultaneously holding hundreds of books in my hands with no effort. Electronic readers hold more books than you can read in a lifetime.
Nearly all of the books I have read these past few years have been on an electronic reader. And yet I am currently reading a plain old paper book. Why?
It’s part of a three-volume biography of Winston Churchill, one of the great characters of history and the leader of England whose wisdom and tenacity may well have saved the whole world from Nazi slavery in World War II.
About 20 years ago, I read the first two volumes on Churchill, “The Last Lion” by William Manchester. Those extraordinary books provided many hours of trying to decide who had the more clever command of the book – the subject or the author.
In 1988, Manchester began the long, exhausting work on the third and final Churchill volume. Then in 1998 two strokes cost him his ability to write. He persuaded Paul Reid, a journalist friend, to take over the final lap and finish the book. Manchester died eight months later.
The book finally came out late last year in time for Christmas. So I now read that book in the old-fashioned paper version even though it is available on electronic readers. I chose the traditional hard-back book for perhaps one last time just to harmonize with the first two volumes resting on the shelf, waiting for volume three. As country folk say, “You gotta dance with the girl what brung you.”
Books can be souvenirs of where you’ve been. I have been with Winston Churchill for many happy hours. Those three hard-bound volumes sit on a shelf where I can see them, and that completes something – an era, a great writer’s amazing trilogy, a war that was the background for my childhood.
But the book is truly huge. I weighed it. It comes to 31/2 pounds!
So I lie in bed each night holding it with both hands, accidentally exercising body as well as mind.
The paper version contains 1,053 pages, twice as many as most books. That is the difference between paper and electronic books. In electronic devices, all books weigh the same – nothing at all.
Electronic books have spoiled me. And this old paper version is like reading a brick.
But it is a brick that, in some strange and personal way, gives me chills just to touch it with my fingers and my mind.Bill Hall can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.