I am in love with books and I want to touch them, see them and know they are there

This is a guest post from Sherry Lamoreaux, who edits my blog, in response to this paragraph in my previous entry:

In other words, when it comes to reading, what matters is being able to carry the book around and have “an experience” when I feel like it. We do not care that much about the package. Come to think of it, it was never about the package no matter how we associate our love for books with their appearances.

Her input was not only insightful but also beautifully woven, laced with personal memories. I felt that the story should be shared with many others. So I asked her to be my guest (blogger) and got my wish. Please take five minutes to read it—you’ll find yourself much comforted getting off to work (or going to bed).

Sherry Lamoreaux is a playwright, editor and publicist.  In addition to Vitriol & Violets, she’s the author of Letters of a Portuguese Nun, a screenplay which took second place in the Kay Snow literary contest, and the short play Little Sister Laments, which was produced in 2007.  She is currently working on a screenplay.


Recently I was hired to research the book “Pull” and find the components of it that supported (or not) a particular business plan under construction.  I had a tight deadline, so I saved time by downloading the book.  I saved more time by searching through it (I have the Adobe Reader, but I assume other eBook readers offer search as well) to find the relevant passages.  I was irritated that I couldn’t figure out how to transfer ownership of it to my client…I couldn’t sell it to him or loan it to him…and I couldn’t print it or copy and paste anything.  I was able to make screen shots, but still had to type out passages.  But overall, it was a fine way to quickly grasp data.

I appreciate the point about portability; that’s important.  For me, there’s more to it…

I have on my shelves an old copy of Salome by Oscar Wilde.  It’s from a limited run.  The pages are uncut and there is hand-applied gold leaf on the illustrations.  The whole thing slides into a paper case that lets the spine show.  It’s a work of art.

I have hardbacks made with gorgeous paper and carefully crafted typography.  I have ancient paperbacks that smell of old glue, that turn yellow and whisper of the readings they’ve had.  I finger a page when I turn it, sometimes too soon…it is a sensual experience, this feel of paper and texture.  It’s porous, and probably retains some of my molecules.  If you read a book that was last read by a murderer, would your fingers sense this?  And books from the library feel different than books you buy and take home.

I have books that I inherited from my father.  There they are, lined up in a bookcase in the living room, a wisp of his presence still there.  This room in which I write is lined with books…E through Z of the fiction (A through D is in the living room, with the anthologies), plus nonfiction books on writing, theatre, and such.  I am surrounded by friends and helpers, who remind me of who I am and what I value.  In the dining room, books on food and health and gardening.  In the basement, business books and well-read mysteries.  In the living room, Paul’s books…cars and trucks and motorcycles and trains, fiction, biographies, all manner of things British (he is English) and more…this is partly how we tell ourselves who we are.  I do mean “we” as specifically he and I, not “we” as in all humanity.

I think, to wrap up this ramble, that I am in love with books and I want to touch them, see them and know they are there, I mirror myself in them.  They are a significant part of my physical reality…so I need the leather-and-tree versions.  That said, when it’s just information I’m after, I am happy to read online.  Although I have a lot of cookbooks (and cookbooks are often beautiful, and I love the ones you inherit that have pages stained and smeared from cooking, or the ones in which you see your own history in the splatters) more and more often I turn to the Net.  (Let’s see, I have two lemons and some chicken breasts…what can I make out of that?)

Someone told me that studies have been done that showed that the brain reading a meat-world book and the brain reading a book on screen lit up in different areas…that the brain processed the info differently depending on how it received the info.  I don’t know if that’s true, but might it explain why the birthday card you get in the mail means more than the one you get on-screen?