I discovered today that all Borders Bookstores in Austin will be shutting down as a result of their company filing for bankruptcy. Along with the recent passing of Brian Jacques, an author of tales depicting noble protagonists and scenes of ambrosial feasts that fueled my childhood imagination, I’ve come to realize and fear the mortality of my beloved memories. If there was ever an inanimate object that I treasured far beyond its monetary worth, laughed and cried over its contents, an object that shaped my principles and attitudes of today, it was the book. I extend the argument that it was not merely the content that shaped who I am, but the vehicle by which the content was delivered that affected my concept of beauty and sacredness.
I fear that my children will never know what it means to turn a page, to feel the dried pulp at their fingertips and inhale the wafted scent of ink on parchment. I fear that they won’t see the profundity of the yellowing page and the physical placement of a bookmark. I fear they will ask me what my libraries were like: ones that required physical perusal, with shelves that towered overhead and a librarian to scan and demagnetize the spines.
The phasing out of books is different from tape cassettes, CDs and other obsolete entertainment media. You don’t hold videotapes for hours in front of your face to absorb their contents. You don’t feel CDs soaking up the warmth and oils of your thumbs as they undergo use. Time and effort is expended in the enjoyment of books in a more intimate way than other modes of entertainment. This kind of intimacy is what feeds my nostalgia and why I can’t let go of the book and bow to its electronic counterpart.
The book itself is a symbol of faith and erudition; with The Holy Bible as an obvious reference. Many characters crave the book and use this craving to drive their story forward. The book is a symbol of power and sentiment. People swear oaths upon them, heft their weight and pass them among friends and stranger alike. Books are a source of unification. That they are no longer hallowed is a tragedy. You see a book lying on your bed and you remember the story in it and the emotions you felt while reading it. You see an eReader on your bed and it evokes unfocused memories of… what?
Someone accused me of being a Luddite. From Wikipedia: “The Luddites were a social movement of British textile artisans in the nineteenth century who protested – often by destroying mechanised looms – against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt were leaving them without work and changing their way of life.” I do not consider this to be an insult, as I can empathize with their plight. Although my job is not directly at risk with the introduction of eBooks, my way of life will take a drastic turn when I realize that something I love so much will not be understood by people that I want to share this admiration with.
Like Hamlet, I’m holding Yorick’s skull.
Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him.
Alas, poor book, I knew thee.