Anyone who has known me would say that I have been a freak about book collecting throughout my entire adult life. Books and bicycles define who I am to a great extent starting way back. When I was a student at Indiana University I worked in the Lily Library which partly shaped my attitude about books, at least in their physical manifestation. I was always a reader but working at the Lily gave me a profound respect for the book in its paper form. Over the course of my life there are few people who have purchased more books than I and I’ve never been able to walk by a pile of books for sale without stopping, at least until recently. My life-long enthusiasm for buying books has waned considerably since I received an eBook reader for something that I wrote.
The problem with collecting books is that it doesn’t suit my lifestyle of moving from one side of the country to the other or from one continent to another. I have left thousands of books in my wake as I made my way around the modest portion of the globe where I have lived. What you see in this photo is most of the books that I have here with another modest shelf in my bedroom. This is probably the fewest books I have ever owned since I was a university student. But what you can’t see in the picture is the treasure of eBooks I have in my reader that I keep in my book bag. I wouldn’t say that it rivals the Library of Alexandria but for me it is a true modern miracle. I haven’t had access to a great library since moving to Valencia like I had in Seattle. With eBooks I no longer need walk through the stacks high among the skyscrapers of Seattle’s downtown area.
Books in their new, digital format are simply an evolution of technology, much like books manufactured on the printing press were an improvement over the hand-written scrolls they quickly replaced. At the time, many people moaned at Johannes Gutenberg’s invention as do people today about eBooks. To me the only thing that matters is what the books say to me; only the words matter. People who lament this tectonic shift in book technology are like those who are nostalgic for vinyl records. I couldn’t wait to abandon my record collection for discs and then abandon that lousy technology for MP3s. Books and vinyl records have opposite merits because whereas records are becoming more and more difficult to play as turntables disappear, books will always be useful, even when eBooks may fail us—my only reservation about this new format.
As the picture shows, I like to be literally surrounded by books. There is something comforting and warm about their physical presence, something eBooks will never have.