A colleague sent me today a link to the story of the sale of the original manuscript of Audubon’s Birds of America.
The book apparently sold for more than $10 million to an anonymous buyer.
What got me going is the sheer size of the thing! Look at it! Huge!
This brought back memories of oversized books. The first books which I remember being oversized were my Dad’s collection of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon comics. They were large books, and it was an incredible pleasure to (almost literally) fall into them.
As an avid Kindle fan, and a general cheerleader for e-books, I got to say that I do not miss print books at all…until I am faced with an object of such obvious beauty on its own, such as Audubon’s book. The experience of flipping pages of a well-bound book is, in my mind, a form of performance art, of perhaps one of those sculptures which require you to interact with them.
If you have ever held a book which is printed in the finest grade paper and bound with the finest leather you will understand what I mean.
But here’s a point: this kinesthetic, sensual experience of flipping pages, smelling the leather, and what-not, has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the work! In fact, while it may bring its own pleasures (and it does) those pleasures are completely external to the experience of the novel – though I can imagine some works where the turning of the page be made into a necessary part of the plot, for example the Choose Your Own Adventure books which I loved as a child. But even then, it is not the issue of the turning of the pages, per se, that matters, but the reader’s choice of actions – which can be easily emulated (and even improved) in an electronic format.
So I am left with this vague nostalgic feeling of “something lost” by the transition to e-books, but when I look actively for what exact element is lost, I find nothing.
All that is lost is a physical habit, which can be replaced by another – the stories will go on forever.