Today I was wandering around in Powell’s Books and I found both a French edition of Roland Barthes’ inaugural lecture upon accepting his position at the College de France and a first American Edition of Barth’s “Sade, Fourier, Loyola”! I love going to Powell’s. In fact, I love going to any real bookstore. Yes, I have a Kindle… and an iPad…. and a Sony Reader…. and 2 laptops and a desktop computer…. and an iPhone. But, in my humble view, nothing compares to that wonderful texture of PAPER. I read on my Kindle every single day. I love it. I can have 100 books with me on every business trip. But, let me tell you, one thing that you CAN’T do electronically is to happen upon a stray first edition; to smell the smell of history; to feel the texture of a mind that is being shared with you; to COLLECT. That is why I still love paper; that is why I always will.
Now. I often think that this magical feeling I have from tangible, touchable, smell-able, collectible books comes simply from the fact that I’m getting older. But I had another Powell’s experience today that brought me similar joy. Barthes-finds in hand, I walked over to the philosophy aisle. I was minding my business, thumbing through some Habermas, looking for some light reading 🙂 , when I heard someone gasp and grab a book off the shelf. A few meters further down the aisle was a lovely young college-age girl. (I know this because I asked her what she found and she chose to tell me she was a college freshman). She is writing a Freshman philosophy essay and found a book which included a text that she had searched for after having to return her library copy. She was genuinely excited to find a philosophy book. Honestly, I don’t even remember what it was. It could be a book by a philosopher I can’t stand. Who knows. To me, that does not even matter. What matters is that someone young enough that they could be my kid, was genuinely excited to wander through a bookstore and to find a cheap (her words) used copy of a philosophy book. This gave me a glimmer of hope that it is not just my age that makes me yearn for real pieces of paper, in real sewn bindings, with the real words “first edition”, that I can really touch. With all the inexpensive technology we have today, I still find that real books can be beautiful things, even for young people. That makes me happy.
So…. let me say this. You e-book lovers out there, know that I am one of you. But also know that there is still pleasure to be found in the texture of the text. So, I’m going to keep buying books. As for you, I urge you to buy lots of ebooks. First, that leaves more cool finds for me 🙂 . Second, your ebooks just make my paper books more valuable. It’s a win-win: I win and…. um…. I win!
Long live the codex. Paper lives!!!