Monday, July 04, 2005

The Book Meme Part 1 (Ethical Reading 3)

Mona tagged me with the book meme. I started to get ambitious in my answer, which meant that I would never finish the post. So instead I'm going to do the post in instalments. Over the course of these posts, I want to argue for two theses:

T1: There is an value to reading books that is separate from reading any other sort of text, such as magazines or blogs, and superior to reading those texts. In fact, if you read the same text, once on a blog and once in a book, you have performed a more noble activity the second time.

T2: The value of reading books is rooted in, but goes beyond, the sorts of reasons we give children when we encourage them to read. The exhortations to children often talk about the "magic of reading" and emphasize escapist fiction. South Park parodied this sort of talk well:

booktasticBookDude: I drive the Booktastic Bus where magic begins. You see reading opens up whole new worlds to you. You can take a canoe down the Amazon or go back in time to Camelot or become a race car driver all by just opening a book. Just like magic, the magic of reading.

Cartman: God, shut up dude.

In that episode of South Park, BookDude fucks a chicken to get Officer Barbrady to learn to read. I don't think I would fuck a chicken, but I would wear that cape in order to get a cop to read.

How many books do you own
I did a rough count, and I got 415 in my campus office and 1285 at home. So it's safe to say I have around 1700 books. The books at home are mostly divided between fiction and nonfiction and then alphabetized to the first letter of the author's name. I'm working on organizing my office books this summer.

My first premise in arguing for my theses is that true readers develop a relationship with a book. I'm not sure of the metaphysics of this: I know the relationship isn't to a particular physical book, or even an edition, but I'm not sure it is to some abstract object either. In any case, the relationship is better when mediated by something tangible. Just as an online relationship is not as nice as a real life relationship with someone you can touch and kiss, so to a relationship with a txt file is not as nice as a relationship with a physical book.

Showing the benefits of having a physical relationship with a book is the next of my argument. Most of the inadequacies of computer texts are clear when you think of reading on a desktop computer. You are sitting upright. You are in a posture you use for work. You cannot move without abandoning your reading. This is no good. But switching to a laptop or handheld leaves some problems.

The computer can hold any content. I know, that is supposed to be the advantage, but it has drawbacks, too. The thing you hold in your hands is only accidentally the book you want to read. With real books, there is a one to one relationship between the physical object and the content. The book you hold in your hands *is* Darwin's Origin of Species, at least in the ordinary senses of those words. The book doesn't just happen to be displaying the Origin of Species right now.

Then there's this argument:

giles_3tMs Calendar: Honestly, what is it about them that bothers you so much?

Giles: The smell.

Ms Calendar: Computers don't smell, Rupert.

Giles: I know. Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell. Musty and, and, and, and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer, is, it ... it has no texture, no context. It's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible, it should be, um... smelly.

Ok, that's all for now. The house is full of children.

1 comment:

mrh said...

The random book that came up in your sidebar was the Book of Ratings. I love that book.