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Parini: Books Do Furnish A Room

02/07/11 7:55AM By Jay Parini
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(HOST) E-books are gaining in popularity.  Commentator Jay Parini has a preference for what you might call "real' books.  So for him, the Kindle and other new-tech readers are problematic.

(PARINI) I've always thought that books are the ideal present:  they speak to an individual taste, reflect the interests of the recipient of the gift and, of course, they say something about the giver.  There's often a subtle message:  I know what you want to read, what your dreams are, what you hope to make of your life!  There is often a
little nudge:  Here is the kind of thing you ought to be thinking about!

I once got a diet book as a gift.  The message was neither nice, nor covert - but it was effective.

The main thing, for me, is that books are precious objects, and lots of us want to own these things, and to give them to somebody as objects as well as texts.

Now there are Kindles and other electronic readers.  And while you certainly can give the reader itself as a gift - and maybe some people get Kindle downloads as gifts - does this really have the same appeal as getting an actual book?  I don't think so.

A book is more than just the text, the story, the information - the letters that move through time. And while an e-reader can certainly put that text before you in an agreeable fashion, it's still not a book, and for that reason, I don't think books will ever go away.  In fifty years, people will still want a book as a gift for special occasions, not a download.  

Now it may well be that books will become expensive and sacred objects, more like the illuminated manuscripts of the pre-Gutenberg era.  They may be objects of veneration, owned only by libraries and museums.   But this is what I would call a worst-case scenario.

I'd like to think that enterprising publishers will always know that a book and a text are not exactly the same thing, and they will make sure that "gift" editions of the latest books can be purchased in hard copy, signed with a little message to the recipient, and put on the shelf in the living room or study.

Books do furnish a room, as the English novelist Anthony Powell once said.  But it's more than that.  I like to live among my books, with their familiar colors, each of them a memory - some slight, some profound.  When you finish reading an e-book, it winks out of existence.  A book, on the other hand, provides a continuing link to a particular text in a satisfying and tangible way.

I like to hold a book in my hands, smell the paper, take off the dust jacket to examine the spine, leaf through the fluttering pages, skim them, assess the description of the book, and read the blurbs.  I even enjoy the peculiar shy smiles of the author photographs.  The book, it seems, has an aura, and this involves a lot more than simply the text.

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