Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Don't Panic

"People do not put a high value on books," one of my teachers said, and she had a point. Books as physical objects are not worth that much to most people. How often do you buy a book? How often do your friends buy them? How well do you take care of them? Would you spend more on a book than on another item you liked?

Books are usually for entertainment and leisure, and even there they're second-class citizens to movies, music, and video games. Think about how much money each industry makes in comparison. Books that aren't intended for your reading pleasure may have it even worse. Just think about all the textbooks you've bought and used in your life.

What we like are the stories within the books. Oh, some people take more pleasure than others in the feel or smell of a book, or they go crazy for hardcovers, or they love the conveniently small size of mass market paperbacks. But usually people care more about what's IN the pages than the pages themselves.

I was reminded of that on a crowded subway. Some guy was reading a book at my station, and when we got into the subway car he sat down while I elected to stand. I saw right away that he was reading The Shadow Rising, the fourth Wheel of Time novel and easily one of my Top 3 in the series. Incidentally, it has what might be my least favourite cover of all the books*.

I could see what chapter he was on, and if anyone on the subway cared to look around at the other passengers instead of pretending that they were in a teeny tiny bubble isolated from the rest of humanity, they might have noticed a bit of a grin on my face as I pictured Rand's exodus from Tear, with Mat trailing along against his will. I was toting up the how many crowning moments of awesome there were in that one book. I held myself back from saying something to the guy (that would have been weird... didn't you read the part about ignoring other people on the subway?), but I still wondered whether he was re-reading the books or if it was his first time through. You know what parts to anticipate when you re-read a favourite book, and it almost makes those parts better. On the other hand, you can never really recapture the initial moments of wonder. so did the guy have any idea what was going to happen at Rhuidean? Did he know about Mat's trip through the twisted door frame ter'angreal? Did he know that the Aiel were really descended from--well, I'll say no more.

My point (if I have one) is that the stories are what gives value to the books. Books as a medium for the masses are a relatively recent invention, only going back about 500 years for the invention of the printing press. Stories, on the other hand, have been around forever. From wall-paintings in la grotte de Lasceaux, to the oral traditions of every culture, the stories will be told. They will live on. Somehow.

*As with other things WOT-related, Leigh Butler nailed the description for this loathed cover, "in which The Little Woman cooks for Random Archer Guy and his friend Eighties Sweatband Guy, who clearly fell through a time warp from a Richard Simmons workout tape onto the Oregon Trail, where he never got a chance to learn how to wear them old-fangled coats before they all died of dysentery." Charming, no?


mel said...

I have to admit, I wish you would have struck up that conversation on the subway.
On the subject of books themselves, I fall between the 2 camps. On one hand, I rarely buy books - they're not cheap, I finish reading within a day or two and then they are forgotten about. I love libraries for this reason.
On the other hand, I have a collection of books that I struggle to part with. Often they're some sort of reference, or designed to provoke thought, or some source of artistic inspiration. Those I hoard like a packrat even if I haven't cracked the spine in years. I always organize my books by colour of spine, and someday hope to have my own library of paperbound inspiration that might look something like this:
(just add a cushy chair in there somewhere...)

Errant Knave said...

That's brilliant! I've heard of chronological, alphabetical, and even biographical, but I've never seen an order like that. Wow. I'll have to look into that.
Someday I hope to have my own cushy chair in a study/library where I can write/draw/whatever. Something along the lines of one of these:
Then again, I kind of like my current space, which is a cramped version of this: (scroll down about halfway)

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