Scribble, scribble, scribble…
“In the beginning was the Word”… Why, yes: I guess if you want a beginning, a word is as good a thing to kick things off as any. And whether you believe, as the Apostle John did, that that word was God, or think it was more probable it was “Once” (as in “Once upon a time”) or even “It” (as in “It was a dark and stormy night”), what isn’t in doubt is that the flow of words since has not stopped.
And it’s unlikely to do so, the need to communicate being one of the chief defining characteristics of humans, along with a sense of morality and a propensity to drop litter. Surely what we find most inspirational about the story of Helen Keller – struck blind, deaf and (it was thought) dumb by scarlet fever at just nineteen months – is that with the help of her inspirational tutor Anne Sullivan she was able to break through what seemed unbreakable shackles and thus communicate, i.e. to become fully human.
This section of The Louse & The Flea is devoted to the written word and the books that have impressed me one way or another. A voracious reader since childhood (I was the stereotypical kid under the bedclothes with a torch and a book after lights out), I am today rarely without at least one book on the go – indeed, often it will be three or four books on the go, which is, you might say, going some.
And I wanted to share my thoughts – along with my peeves, prejudices and praise – about what I have read. My taste runs mostly to non-fiction, particularly history, but also biography, journalism, language, religion and what is usually termed “popular science” (as opposed to “unpopular science”, so if you’re into quantum mechanics or quadratic equations you’ll find lean pickings here). There will be the occasional forays into fiction, but I usually stick to my favoured authors.
And now a word about the printed word. With the advent of Kindle and other electronic books, some technophiliac commentators have predicted the end of books as we know them – you know, covers (hard or soft), pages and all that old-fashioned, dead-tree stuff. I believe reports of the death of books are greatly exaggerated. There’s no doubt the publishing industry will change as a result of technology, but it is unlikely books – permanent records of printed words upon physical pages – will be totally subsumed by the flickering of zeros and ones on a backlit screen.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve played around with Kindles, iPads and the like and I can certainly see their advantages in certain circumstances. But in certain circumstances are the operative words here. There is no way I would risk putting all my books on to one device, since I’m the sort of guy for whom the average possession-time of an umbrella is one month – I can well imagine myself ending up in London Transport’s lost property office reporting that I’d left my library on the Circle Line.
And besides, cosying up in bed with a Kindle on a rainy winter’s night doesn’t float my boat quite as much as cosying up with a book does. Perhaps that’s my age, or perhaps you might say I’m regressing to my childhood. You may well be right and you wouldn’t be the first to say that about me. But if age confers anything besides hair loss, wrinkles and an unwillingness to run after buses, it confers the right not give up habits that have served well through a lifetime, just to jump on any passing bandwagon (which, given that age also confers a certain shortness-of-breath, is perhaps no longer within my fading capabilities).
So, as long as books are printed upon a page, there will be at least one customer willing to pay to have them in that form. And, I suspect, there are many others like me.