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to squeeze a book


The following query concerning the previous post was put to me by an intelligent, attractive, and avid reader of this blog:

As it turns out, the prospective release of a new electronic reader that both ejects inky effluvium and massages the hands via a vibration of the robotic back panel now seems eminent. Will you, Jeff, thus be more apt to enthusiastically invest?

As intimated in the previous post, just as the book addresses the whole of the spirit, so should its consumption consist of the whole of the experience, intellectual and visual and tactile and olfactory. Books are illusions, of course, and the illusion is inside the book, not outside of it. The attempts, therefore, by savvy tech-marketers and ludicrous perfumeries (cf.: this. $90 for 15mL? I think I’ll take the “home spray”), to recreate a ‘wholesome’ reading experience you might think would find sympathy from me as natural allies in this most noble of quests. However,

It isn’t really a question of books smelling good or bad (in my opinion, in fact, there are no bad-smelling books) but simply of them smelling at all. By which I mean, any restriction of the senses when reading (taste aside, though I have been known to lick a page or two), is a restriction of the freedom of the reader. I shall state it thusly: there was no reading before books and there shall be no reading after they have disappeared, even when our greatest libraries are immured on the point of a pin. (‘Reading’ of course not referring to the ‘reading’ of cuneiform inscriptions, facial expressions, blog posts, the weather, bas-relief/intaglio, sidereal syzygy, or burnt turtle shells—but literature, and specifically the novel).

Contrary to other trends (which do not require the reciprocal freedom of author/reader) in the scribbling arts, there are fewer people reading literature these days, a sad sign of the end times if there ever was one. Putting the right words in the right order is the crucial first step, but for an audience to fully understand those words requires a next step that I believe falters under current antagonistic attitudes toward the venerable history of the literary art, which is the history of the book. Cf. the works of Mr Kundera (previously mentioned below) and Mr Sartre (never before mentioned) as to the impossibility of pure reading in impure states (both of mind (S) and country (K)), which,

Is not to say that totalitarian regimes (I’m looking at you, Amazon) should be equated, in their effect on the reading public, with plastic tablets. Nevertheless, it is true that I do indeed remember how certain individual books smell, and there are a multitude of different smells (smells, even, that change over the course of reading the very same book), smells I would not trade for ease of storage, or ease of use.

As to these last two Boons of our Era, they excel, as everything else these days, in little snips and bits. The most popular types of writing (and film and music and the visual arts), that are the main currency for these websites and handheld devices, though witty and informative and always, always, funny, only perpetuate the kind of desultory, shallow-minded thought processes that prove unable or unwilling to embrace that mess of challenging, subtly nuanced, meditative, long-winded prose I (and others?) most enjoy.


I shall grasp firmly my beloved objects with all the furious intent of a man to his freedom (if that freedom where propitiously in the shape of a book), so extensively batter by impulsive squeezes at moments of extreme pleasure and humor and awe and focus as to severely warp its once-perfect form. Like a stress ball, it was. I didn’t just want to read it. I wanted to squeeze it.

One Comment
  1. Sean permalink

    I like the title of your latest post. “To squeeze a book” At a certain level I want to agree with you. I have shelves for my books, and I have a separate shelf for the books that are touchstones to me. They are within reach of my bed because sometimes I want to read them, but mostly, I want to be close to them superstitiously, like they are magical talismans. Like when I was playing baseball and wouldn’t change my my socks during a winning streak, or how I won’t whistle backstage when I’m doing a play. These books are relics to me. Not in the sense that they are old, but the classic sense of the word, they are holy to me.
    That being said, my left brain asks the questions, “Were Ovid or Homer not writers of literature because their writing was in scrolls? Did Dickens and London abandon literature because their novels were serialized in Newspapers? Are the quartos and folios of Shakespeare any less worthy because they don’t have a spine to bend? Is a paperback less enjoyable than a hardcover? Does a change in font change the ideas within? Which came first, the Gutenberg or the DeFoe?”
    What I truly treasure about reading is reading the ideas within. I’ll allow that other senses can enhance my enjoyment, but only so much as the writing inspires me to want to enjoy it.
    To me, life is too short to complain about which way a piece of writing that changes my life gets delivered to me. To change Archimedes’ quote, “Give me a truly great pice of writing, and place to stand upon, and I can move the world.”

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