Dagdha's Blog

Literary Satisfaction

Posted in Uncategorized by dagdha on March 7, 2012

Records, movies, even TV anthologies – none can compete with the satisfaction of finishing a book.  The only other artistic medium that I think comes close (in a cosmic sense of the word) would be video games, but even they cannot compete with the impression of honed mental acuity and accomplishment one feels at the end of a well-written novel.

A good book sucks you in, makes you forget about necessities like eating, challenges ideas you thought were set in stone, increases empathy, expands the imagination, illuminates intuitions of which you were only faintly aware, and connects you to extraordinary minds, unhindered by geography or time. Books are the materialization of thought into matter, the transcendence of our abstract humanity into the material world. Without books, and the writing within, mankind would differ little from our primate cousins.

The development of books, evolving initially from inscriptions and scrolls, catalyzed the proliferation of ideas and technologies in the ancient world, as well as creating a more concrete history than was previously known (after all, history as we know it doesn’t exist without a common written record). Gutenberg later revolutionized literature with his creation of the printing press around 1440, which has been continually refined ever since.  Today books have escaped into the realm of light, ushering in the new publishing paradigm of e-books. And although some hardware concerns exist, these volumes can be replicated near-instantaneously, negating the possibility of a tragedy like the Library of Alexandria happening again (short of severe global cataclysm).

Still, e-books, however convenient, lack the authenticity and subtle joys of a physical book. The smell of dried ink, the texture of different paper stocks, the visual pleasure of carefully chosen fonts or finely detailed covers – these are the elements of typographical craftsmanship that define a cultural-historical legacy, with a fortitude stronger than a DELETE key. You can’t wrap an e-book, with a personal note written on the title page, and give it to a close friend, who might put it on the shelf next to his hollowed out copy of Sherlock Holmes where he hides his contraband. And I have yet to see a literary conversation begin between strangers because someone was reading a nondescript Kindle, which appears biblically plain next to a cover adorned with artwork by Alan Lee or iconic names like Dostoevsky and Chompsky.  Most of all, the tangible exchange of energy between a reader and the pages of a book cannot be simulated on a digital device, especially if it runs out of battery life.

For me, the most alluring quality of printed books is their ability to capture and encapsulate ideas and emotions, both for the author and the individual reader. Like certain smells or a particular song, books are often historical anchors for people, reminding them of a specific time in their lives and the thoughts or emotions associated with those respective experiences.  A personal library serves as a corporeal timeline embodying ideological development, which can be shared with or passed on to privileged comrades.

Public libraries and bookstores, on the other hand, are an entirely different realm, open to infinite exploration by inquisitive minds and active imaginations. Unquestionably Amazon.com offers the widest and cheapest selection of any institution I know, but the experience can be equally as cheap. Mouse clicks don’t engender the same kind of excitement as hunting through shelves of pristine codices until that one volume catches your eye, whose quality can be gauged quickly by thumbing through a few pages to get a feel for the prospective literary companion.

I wish I had read more as a kid instead of wasting my time watching television or playing video games. Nevertheless, I discovered my passion for books at a time in my life when I’m free to read what I want, in a time when challenging ideas are more crucial than ever for myself and global society as a whole. Reading is like a drug: the more you read, the more you crave it, as long you read the right books.  The “right” books speak to you on a personal level, as though the author was speaking directly to you. It goes without saying that everyone has different tastes, but I promise there are books out there that will make you an addict. It just requires a little searching.

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