I’ve been in a love affair with books my entire life. If I have fifty to read, it never stops me from buying just one more. When I was a kid, every time my Mom took be to the local store, she always let me pick out a book. Most of the time it was one of the Little Golden Books, but I got to choose and it was mine from that moment forward. This started my love for books and the printed word.
My grandmother was a printer. She used to have a sign that said printer’s ink was in her blood. I don’t doubt it. She knew the quality of paper just by running her fingers over it. She began her business in her house while raising three kids. She learned how to typeset and ran printing presses in her basement. Later the business grew and moved out of her basement into a proper office. I remember the smell of ink in her shop and was always fascinated by how the process worked.
At some point I decided to start my own business hand-making books and it made me appreciate the skill and hours that went into one finished product. It left me with a much better understanding of why a bound book has been considered a great luxury throughout history. I understood why monks hunched over paper for years, just to create one manuscript of illumination. Book making is a true art form that showcases the very best of mankind.
As a young adult, I would spend hours sitting by an open window reading, with only the sound of the birds outside and an occasional breeze for company. These were some of the most rewarding years of my life. Reading made me slow down and escape from the daily grind of life. I relished it. But as often happens, life got in the way at some point and as I grew older, I read less and less.
The modern world crept in – televisions, computers, phones – technology took over and there was little time left for reading. I spent over twenty-five years in the academic publishing industry and watched as the digital age swept in like a rogue wave, doing its best to erode centuries of traditional book making. I watched as academia slowly, but surely, started moving their collections from the shelves onto the computer screen. Everything became faster and not always in a good way. Gone was the need to travel to a library and spend time rummaging through endless shelves. Physical card catalogs became extinct as technology killed our attention spans.
Kindle came along and even robbed us of the sound made from a turning page. “It’s better than books!” – they said. “Printed books are a thing of the past!” Secretly I hoped and prayed “they” were wrong. Why? Because you can’t smell a Kindle. The screen of a Kindle doesn’t slowly yellow with age due to the touch of thousands of fingers. You can’t put a Kindle on the shelf and admire the stories you’ve read in any meaningful way.
Being surrounded by books is like being in a room of possibilities…the possibility to learn something you didn’t know. The possibility to travel somewhere you’ve never been (if only in your imagination). When the world spins out of control, books offer something solid to cling too. Each one personal with words uniquely strung together to convey a specific message or image in the reader’s mind.
My love of books was ingrained from the start. I’ve spent my life surrounded by books. I love the smell of their pages, their cloth spines, and how they spark my imagination. These days, I look at the books on my shelves as old friends, memories of time well spent and of people long gone. I still relish an early morning read in my leather chair, cup of hot coffee in one hand and a book in the other….the sound of birds outside my open window, still singing their songs. I guess they never stopped…I just stopped listening….for a while…