Thursday, March 29, 2012

In Praise of Books in Print

Had to love Robert Wallace's "In Praise of Books in Print" column on the March 21 "Durham News" section of the News and Observer.

He praises the superiority of physical books over digital ones, and mentions a certain Durham bookstore that is close to my heart. Here are some lengthy excerpts from the column. You can read the whole thing at

From "In Praise of Books in Print by Robert Wallace:

"On a cool, rainy day in Cleveland I enter Mac's Backs and take in the smell of used books. Instantly I feel at home. Mac's is my home-away-from-home bookstore.

It is the bookstore my daughter and I visit together when I come to visit. Only a couple of blocks from her apartment, Mac's is part of a string of unique, eclectic stores on Coventry Street, much like Ninth Street in Durham.

On this day in March, my daughter and I enter Mac's, the rain blowing in behind us.

'Get what you want,' I say to my daughter.

We spread out; my daughter to the classics, while I explore the all-fiction section.

We settle in.

I pick up several books, read the front covers, and put them back. Then I pick up a book by Gabrielle Roy: “The Tin Flute.” I remove my eyeglasses from the breast pocket of my jacket, put them on, and read that this was Roy's first novel, written just after WWII. Roy is French Canadian, and the novel is set in Montreal, in the ’30s, and is supposed to be a classic story of realism of working-class families. John Steinbeck is my favorite author, and, I suspect, Roy's volume to be similar to his California novels.

Find number one.

Just then, Anna, my daughter, shows me a slim Penguin pocketbook volume of Aesop's Fables. Later she finds “Antic Hay” by Aldous Huxley. She reads, out loud, from the back cover, the novel's brief description.

'This sounds amazing,' she says.

Already she has two finds.....

Over the years I have spent many an hour in bookstores, not one of them wasted.

I have, perhaps, two thousand books. Not many, really –I know people who have five times as much. Some are predicting the end of the book, the end of publishing as we know it. I hope that is not the case.

Books, by their very nature, possess something that a tablet can never do: physicality. They inhabit the world.

By way of example, Anna rushes over and shows me two books. One is a book by Bronte with beautiful, original lithographs. The other is a book with pages made of fabric. Anna rubs her hand across a page, and feels its texture and heft. You can't do that with an electronic tablet.

I understand the appeal: the electronic tablet's ease; its ability to download thousands of books, and therefore save space. But it is this ability to occupy space, to take up room, to exist, which appeals to me. Even when I’m not reading my books, I like having them around, I like seeing them. When I see an iPad, I don't see a book, and, consequently, I don't see an author. When I pick up a book, the author, and his or her words, becomes real to me, as if the words were written for me alone.

Later, when I return to Durham, I go to The Regulator Bookshop, to browse. I love The Regulator. I can’t imagine Durham without it.

'Life is a succession of habits, since the individual is a succession of individuals,' Samuel Beckett said. With each time I enter The Regulator Bookshop, or, for that matter, any bookstore, I count my life all the richer."

No comments: