I hear a lot these days about printed books going the way of the horse and buggy. With all the e-books, e-zines, e-news, and e-readers, there will be no need to read from a printed page. I don’t own one, a “Kindle,” or a “Nook,” or any of the other computer pads, and I don’t think they’re ever going to replace a hard-bound book with a dust cover and a picture of the author in a turtle-neck on the back. What will happen to bookshelves? Will we fill them with nick knacks, empty book-ends, shot-glass collections? I have sixteen boxes of unpacked books in my garage waiting for bookcases to be built in my office room. I’m proud of every one. I display them, not only to maybe read them again, or to recommend and loan to someone, but maybe just to show that I’ve read every one of them and they’re mine. Can’t do that with a Kindle file, although it takes up less space. What is a library without a book in it? WTF.
I’m going to start building the bookcases this weekend, and when they are finished, I will unpack the books, dust them off and put them there, held upright with decorative bookends that I have collected over the years. Some of these books I’ve had for 40 years or more. I can remember when I first read them. Richard Bradford’s “Red Sky At Morning.” Herman Raucher’s “Summer of 42.” “Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” by Herman Wouk. “The Reincarnation of Peter Proud,” by Max Ehrlich. Almost every book by Larry McMurtry and John Grisham. On my bookshelves you will find almost every book written about The Holocaust, the Lindbergh kidnapping, and the assassination of President Kennedy. Subjects that I have been absorbed with over the years. I can’t imagine my only keepsake of these, and the hundreds of other books that I have, to be a file on a computer pad. I’ve packed them, and moved them, a number of times over the years, and I won’t part with any of them unless I loan a book out and don’t get it back.
I read books, not as much as I used to, but I must have the book in my hands. I don’t fold the corner’s over to mark my place. I use a bookmark. Sometimes a business card, sometimes a scrap of folded paper, sometimes an actual item designed for the purpose, but I never damage the book. I don’t like highlighter use in a book especially. What if I don’t think what you think is important is important? Some people highlight the whole damn book. Never understood that. Maybe you should just read it again?
Johannes Gutenberg, was the man who started it all. He invented the printing press with movable type, making the printing of books, mostly hand-written by monks up to that point, easy and revolutionized the world. He is even credited for starting the Renaissance. His invention did not cause the invention of the book shelf. That was already around. He is probably the cause of the home library though, because now you could actually own a book and you needed some place to put it. It was 1450.
The earliest “printed” book is agreed to be the “Diamond Sūtra” produced in China in 868 CE. That’s “Common Era” or “Current Era” or “Christian Era,” whatever you choose to believe. I remember BC and AD. What happened to those? 868 AD, Anno Domino, latin for something, which I always thought stood for “After Death,” of Jesus of Nazareth, of course, but it really marks the the epoch period starting with his birth. So, let’s see, that would have been 2,012 years ago. I was right about the Latin. The term Anno Domino is Medieval Latin for “In the Year of The Lord.” That book was printed using carved wooden blocks. You can imagine that they would not print very well after a few runs, which is why the use of metal type replaced it in 1254 CE. Movable type is the key though, metal letters or phrases that could be inserted in a type machine over and over again to print pages.
Gutenberg, it seems, although being able to easily see the popularity of the printed page, was a lousy businessman. He lost the whole thing to his creditors without ever earning a penny from his invention. Hard to believe. You would have thought that he would have been a household name, but not in his lifetime.
I have always seen books as a way to gain some form of immortality. Once the book is published, your name is most likely on it, and even out of print, you know it existed. I’ve seen books go for upwards of $50,000 at auction on TV auction shows. I think writing a book is a fine thing. Going to book signings, and book tours, and getting royalty checks, and an advance for your next book. All seemed like a future for me, but I’ve been writing that great American novel, or saying such, for a long, long time, and it’s no closer to the printed page than it ever was.
I can promise you though, when I write that book, it won’t be initially released as an e-book. I will have a copy of it on my bookshelf with all my other favorite books, even if I have to print it myself.