On Books

There are many reasons why we should not be reading books any more.

First of all, they are bulky to carry. I could not shift house for last six years, despite feeling the necessity, because I have to find a way to move my books. I have paid excess baggage and lived a cramped life, and had numerous arguments with others, because of my books.

Second, because there is an alternative. The electronic format is catching up on resolution etc. One can get books under 60 seconds, almost anywhere in the world (not in Iran though, one of the countries where book reading is so popular), as Amazon claims for its Kindle. What can be better to be able to 3500 books in your hand within a tiny, slim device: for all of £150. Someone reminded me that you will need to spend five times as much to buy bookshelves that can hold so many books.

Third, with newspapers and vinyl gone that way, book reading remains an ugly twentieth century habit. For all romanticism, it is limiting, not liberating. It is a lazy thing, meant for a time when people did not move so much.

And, for all the other reasons why the world should go completely digital.

As a lover of books, an obsessed one I must add, I feel nostalgic about books. I resent its passing, whatever inconvenience it may have caused in my life. I desire they would stay, a few more decades, at least till I live. If I make an wish, a very bourgeois one unfortunately, I see myself dying in a room looking into greens outside, a room full of books. When I think about it, I don't see a computer: They are not part of wish, not part of my character.

However, all this romanticism aside, I think there is a reason why the book will survive, and in fact, will thrive. The book is not a CD, or even a newspaper. It is not a passive carrier of the information it contains. It is not just a medium. It has its own existence: I shall explain why.

But more on Vinyl first, if that's one thing which died in the digital onslaught. It was always taken as a carrier of live performance, a medium. When more efficient forms were found, the fate of Vinyl, and its successors, were sealed. However, books were different: It transported messages and ideas across the ages and space, but it was not representing spoken word. They had an existence of its own.

Primarily because, I shall argue, the sense of authenticity a published book added to its message. I can write a story on this blog, but it is so very different from the printed form: It will never carry the sense of accomplishment that 'getting published' will denote. The 'authorship' sets its own context: It defines a relationship between the readers and the author. The book represents that context.

Even when information becomes free, the need for authenticity will not die. In fact, I shall argue, with more information, authenticity will become even more important. Beyond the smell and touch of the printed book, the sign on the spine - our very familiar Penguin or the Pelican or some such thing - will denote a level of effort and accomplishment. This will be very difficult to recreate online. The fact that I can write online and be read will steal some charm from being published online.

So, in the brave new world, we may see more books, not less. The books do not represent a repressive commercial regime based on the principle of restricting access to information: The library movements across the world, over the ages, sought to put that right and expand the access. Books represent credentials, efforts, authenticity, and ultimately, the existence of the work independent of its author. This is going to be re-kindled as we move forward.


Loretta said…
Hi Supriyo,

What a good read. Makes me want to value my books even more. I sometimes sit and admire my collection of books sitting on my shelf in my study. A lot of these books helped me shape the way I am today. A Debut Author.

I look forward to reading more of your blogs.

Anonymous said…
I truly appreciate what you're doing here!

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