Wednesday, May 16, 2018

In Defense of Books

As I write this, I am literally surrounded by books. Yesterday, a millennial (and one of my own children!) announced to me that he had probably read his last book. There are so many media forms proliferating, he told me, that he was making a conscious effort to focus on the new rather than those that were on their way out.

The thing is, though, that books are not on their way out. Sure, the codex might be superceded. But the codex is simply a form of delivery. A codex is what we think of as a physical book... multiple pages bound on one side, that can be flipped through. But before that, books were delivered on scrolls. Before that, they were impressed into clay, or carved into stone. Today, they're delivered electronically. And we still read the books that were previously delivered on scroll, or clay, or stone. The form of delivery is not what makes a book. So here are just a few thoughts on why books themselves are not, nor will they become, obsolete.

1. Books are slow and deliberate in their creation. They deliver the distilled, deliberate thoughts of their authors. No other medium can match this -- not film, not a blog post, not a podcast, not a lecture, and certainly not any of the phone-friendly byte-sized forums.

2. Books are personal. They're usually not written by committee, and when they are, it's a small collaboration. Through a book you can peer inside another human brain.

3. Books endure. When you're reading the "The Gallic Wars", it is Julius Caesar himself who is speaking to you. No one else. It matters not whether the words themselves are written on a parchment or vellum scroll, a codex, or an ebook. The book itself is a form of expression that transcends its medium.

4. Books use language to its fullest. Books use descriptive language without crutches. The visuals and emotions are those that they impart through language alone. Because of this, a great author MUST tap into the universalities of human emotion and experience in a way that no filmmaker can begin to match.

5. Books take time to read. They are to be savored, not devoured. We dwell in them. There's no set length. There's nothing that flies by to be missed. This is time employed by the reader to build the world that is given in blueprint form by the author, and the reader related because he is invested in that creation. In itself, reading a book is a skill far more advanced than the mere interpretation of the printed words. It is an active engagement of the mind and imagination of the reader. And yet, it's not a difficult skill.

6. When an author elicits emotion from the reader, it is a deliberate act. It's not the instinctive response of an animal to the purity of a tone or a particular facial expression. It is a difficult and subtle craft to -- through words alone -- coax the reader into a particular frame of mind and Make. Him. Feel. It is this deliberate impartation of emotion that raises the craft of an author to Art.

7. Books -- particularly classic books -- are honest. They depict what is, as understood by the author. They need not check boxes for political expediency. As such, books are intellectually dangerous. This is why books are the first expressions of speech to be banned by those demagogues and manipulators who are vulnerable to the truth. Those things that are MOST dangerous to tyrants are the very same things that are MOST necessary to maintain our liberty. This is why it is the freedom of the press, and not that of guns, that is avowed in the First Amendment.

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