A few weeks ago I noticed my copy of The Sound and The Fury missing. Actually, I noticed that both of my copies were missing. I’m trying not to expect foul play. They were probably simply accidentally sold during the last purging of unwanted household items. Probably.
I’ve heard people say that a book changed their lives. I don’t think the book changed their lives, I think it was the words printed on the pages. Yet, the book itself has value. The way it smells. The typeface. The tactile quality of the page. The cracking sound the spine makes when opened.
Last night I found myself at a bookstore and decided to replace my missing book. There were three copies available: two paperbacks and a hard cover. I didn’t even pick up the low-end paperback. I considered the second paperback because it would tuck neatly into the bookcase next to my others of the same collection. I ultimately decided on the hard cover.
Generally, I’m a library fiend. Not only to save money, but also reduce clutter in my house. But this book I’ve read at least five times in eight years, and I know I’ll want to read it several more times. I want it in my house when I need it and I want a durable copy. Plus, the text in the hard cover was set with more generous leading and the margins had more room for my thumbs. So I figured it would be easier to read. It’s fastidious I know, but if it’s an object that I’ll be spending hours looking at and it will be in my house for probably a decade or more, a few extra dollars is worth it.
The thought of owning anything for a decade or more is odd. Especially considering the temporary nature of 90% of my purchases. I have books that are decades old (well, I have books from the 1800s but that’s for another story). I have CDs that I’ve owned for 15 years or more. But I can’t think of a single thing which requires batteries that I’ve had that long.
I suppose I’m an exception to the rule. On my way out the store I glanced at the “best sellers” rack. I couldn’t help but think most of the books there wouldn’t be kept for more than a decade. A lot of them dealt with politics or this week’s get-rich-quick scheme?or vampires. Several promised an answer to life’s deepest questions. These books have a shelf life slightly longer than that of bread.
I’ve heard it said: We don’t need good newspapers; we need good journalism. And I believe that. The CD is not what is important, the music is. Most of the news I now read is on the internet. I still listen to CDs, but more often I listen to MP3s for the convenience.
MP3s sound crappy. Hopefully someday there will be something that is as convenient as MP3s, but sounds like CDs. CDs will go away. The music is what’s important, not the object.
But I love the object. I love reading the little booklets in CDs, unfolding the packaging. I love the feel of paper. MP3s do not have the tactile experience of a physical object.
If I had read The Sound and the Fury for the first time on a Kindle, the experience would have been very similar. I reacted to the story and words, not the paper. But the object still has value. A book is somehow more than words, more than a story. That is why I bought the more expensive copy.