Saturday, January 28, 2006

Why I Like Books

Why I like Books
By William H. White, Jr.

I love to read. Not just staring at the cereal box in the mornings or a perusal of the morning funnies, but to read. I love to digest books. Any kind of book - classical literature, murder mysteries, biographies, histories – I love them all. Not tawdry novels that require no thought or imagination to go through, but a book that make you think, make you imagine, make you learn, and sometimes make you grab the your trusty dictionary to find out what the words mean.
I realize that instant information is at our command with the Internet, but there is not substitute for the solid feel of a well-made book. The smell of the leather, the feel of the onion skin pages, the weight of the volume in your hand all combine to make the reading an experience. There is nothing to compare with its presence. No computer screen will ever diminish their value.
Throughout history books have been banned, burned, and buried, yet they still remain as a testament to others who share my love of them. They contain knowledge and that knowledge is power. For centuries despotic rulers have attempted to maintain command by keeping their subjects ignorant and needy. Religious fanatics have invented religions by banning Bibles and other books from their parishioners. Books have a power that is feared by the unjust rulers of the world. Hitler burned millions of copies of volumes, some priceless and irreplaceable. His thirst for power was fueled by the ignorance of his followers.
Since time began men have chronicled events and stories. From cave drawings to the elaborate printing process used today, books have been around. They exist as carvings, tablets, scrolls, and bound volumes. They show us our development as a society. They immortalize our heroes and villains, our best and our worst, our triumphs and tragedies.
Movies can show you a story, but a book makes you a part of the adventure. I have seen movies about Jimmy Doolittle’s raid against Japan during World War II, but through books I have flown with him. I have smelled the fuel, felt the shaking of the airframe, heard the drone of the engines, and tasted the fear of those brave men as they flew against their enemy.
I have sailed with the oceans in search of treasure with pirates, flown to Paris with Charles Lindbergh, felt Hester Prynnes humiliation as she wore the scarlet letter, and stepped on the moon with the astronauts. I have charted new frontiers across the west, searched for Moby Dick with Captain Ahab fought alongside Audie Murphy, and stood shoulder to shoulder with Wyatt Eyrp. I have woven clothes with Silas Marner, felt the weight of the albatross around the neck of the Ancient Mariner, and spied on our countries enemies with Jack Ryan. All this without ever leaving my chair. My earliest memories of books are of solving mysteries with the Hardy boys and Encyclopedia Brown. My childhood held many unpleasant experiences and trials. Yet, no matter how bad things got, I could always retreat to my books and regain control of things. I could sail off in command of the Pacific Fleet to fight against Japan. Or, I could strap into the cockpit of a P-51 Mustang and take flight against the ME-109’s of the German Lufftwaffe in the struggle for freedom. I have donned my armor, mounted my trusted steed, slain the dragon and rescued the beautiful damsel in distress. I have climbed the beanstalk with Jack and stolen the golden goose. Books gave me freedom to escape the unpleasant realities of my life and go anywhere I wanted to be
There is no greater door to the unknown than the one opened by a book. Within the confines of its pages there are no boundaries and no limitations other than those of the readers imagination. Inside those pages the reader can experience the mind of the writer. He can insert himself as an observer or as the hero in a way that cannot be duplicated by television or film.
To me the library has always been greater than Fort Knox. Full of unlimited wealth and value. More valuable than gold, for with the knowledge contained in a book I can fill many vaults of great size.
Unlike computers, books are totally portable. They don’t require charging or telephone lines. They don’t interfere with electronic equipment, so they can be taken anywhere you want to go. Some are small enough to carry in a pocket. They aren’t too adversely affected by being dropped or having things spilled on them, and you don’t have to have years of training to operate one. Even better yet, they never crash or get viruses, you never have to upgrade them, they can interface with anyone, and they are never obsolete.
When I was young my father brought home a set of 11th edition Encyclopedia Brittianica’s. They are large beautifully leather bound masterpieces. They feel important. Holding one in your hand is like wielding Excalibur. Holding something precious in your hand that cannot be replaced. The articles contained in them are fascinating. Most of the information is so out of date it is amusing, but they are rich in information and history.
In my mind no computer, PDA, or other electronic device will ever replace the old dog- eared, well read book. Poetry can be read on a computer and even by a computer, but there is no substitute for holding the Sonnets from the Portuguese in your hand and reading the pages. Touching the paper. Smelling the musty aroma of time. No computer can simulate that.
I love books. They offer unlimited travel, unconditional love, irreplaceable knowledge, and unending adventure. They cannot be expunged from existence. They will continue with us as long as man exists. So, if you will excuse me, I am going to go level my couch with my laptop.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Three years and 1 month later. I just read the poem, "God Answers Prayer," on this site and wanted to let you know that I found this poem in 1961, while I was in the Navy in Yokosuka, Japan. I kept it with me as well as another small paper it is a drawing of Jesus on one side and the writing, "One Solitary Life." on the other. I still carry that one with me and I have the God Answers Prayer in my file cabinet. Richard Gillet