Long Live the Book
There is something irreplaceable about the printed word.
I have learned to never say never. The first time I wrote a column for St. George Magazine in 1983, I wrote it on an IBM Selectric typewriter. Others I knew were starting to do their work on a new-fangled gadget called a personal computer. I had no use for them and vowed I’d never park myself in front of such a contraption. The first time I heard a cell phone ring was on a peaceful, perfect morning on the rocky ridge now known as Stone Cliff. I was standing there enjoying the view with a real estate agent when the brick, hanging like a six-gun from his belt, filled the pastoral morning with a clanging ring that shook me to the core. I swore I would never have one. The first time a friend tried to explain to me what an e-mail was, I gave him a blank look and wondered what all the fuss was about. Surely, I would never have need for such trivial technology. Yet here I sit, tapping on the keyboard of my laptop computer, wondering if I should answer the cell phone that vibrates in my pocket, pressing hard to finish this piece and e-mail it to my son who will post it on my blog, which is found on my very own website on the worldwide web.
Yes, I have learned to never say never. So when someone asked me last year if I own a wireless reading device, something like the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes and Noble Nook, I held my tongue and did not utter what I was thinking. I was thinking something to this effect: “The day I read a book on an electronic box will be the day St. George opens a yacht club.” At that moment I can honestly say that I never expected to read a book on a computer screen. But I’d been around long enough to know it is silly to say never. Still, I simply could not imagine a book as anything but an individual, tactile artifact printed on paper pages bound between covers.
My fellow bibliophiles will understand my hard and fast stance. We love books not just for the stories and information contained in them, but for their feel and their heft and their texture and the magic that is released when they fall open and the pages file off the thumb and the smell of fresh ink and the sound of crackling paper and the anticipation of what might be revealed combine to create a moment of transcendence unattainable in any other way. Try to get that out of your six-hundred-dollar iPad.
I suppose for me this obsession can be traced back to the first time I stepped into the old Washington County Library that stood between the St. George Tabernacle and the Woodward School. It was one of those classic Carnegie buildings erected in the early 1900s with vines creeping up its weathered walls. Mom would take me there from time to time on a listless summer afternoon and I would step through the ancient door as if from one world into another. From the hot and piercing air of the hometown afternoon, into the close and musty confines of what seemed to be a passageway into the vast possibilities of the universe. It was a perfectly quiet place except for the creak in the wood floor as you reverently stepped across it.
I would slip quickly down the stairs and disappear into the rows of shelves where books stood side-by-side in what seemed to me to be an endless procession of stories. I marveled at all the books that existed in the world, all the pretty covers and all the alluring titles and all the words that formed all the sentences that filled all the pages bound to all the spines that I ran my fingers across as I sauntered up and down the aisles. Never mind that in those days I couldn’t read. It was not until later that I actually learned to decipher the letters that formed the words that made the sentences that became the stories. Maybe that is why I was so haunted by books. I knew they were full of something wonderful, full of places I’d never seen and stories I’d never heard and adventures I’d never dreamed. I knew all those things, and more that I could not imagine, were tucked between the covers of those amazing paper artifacts that I pulled off the shelves. There was something transcendent about those encounters, some kind of magic that is still conjured in my heart today when I get the chance to visit the library or wander through a bookstore. It is something I treasure, and it is precisely what I felt would be lost if I gave myself over to downloading my books on a wireless reading device and sat down to read them from a computer screen.
Still, I will never say never again. Because finally, last month, I did read an e-book for the first time. And when I did, the sea level did not rise, and St. George did not become a coastal town, and a book entitled “Yachting in Utah’s Dixie” did not reach the bestseller list. But my new book, ON CLOUDY MOUNTAIN, was released as an e-book, and the only way I could read it was to download it onto my iPad. And that’s what I did. And I read every page, flipping each one with my finger while never touching paper. And I survived. And all is well with the world.
P.S. If you’re still fearful of taking the plunge, here’s a way to ease more painlessly into an e-book. (It worked for me.) Place your chair next to your bookshelf and lean your head onto your books and breathe the scent of the printed word while you read the pixels on the screen.
Click here for more information about my new book.