Two Reasons Why Books Matter

by Joel Friedlander on February 2, 2012 · 10 comments

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Reason #1 Why Books Matter

From a review on Goodreads for The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, reviewed by Erica M. Chapman:

How do I rate a book like this? A book that burrowed into my soul and made a home, tore it down, rearranged the pieces. There are some books that just affect you. Besides making you think, they make you wonder and ask questions and contemplate the universe and our reason for living.

Reason #2 Why Books Matter

book designI have this hanging next to my desk.

It’s an incunable, a printed page from the infancy of printing, before 1500. Gutenberg established his press around 1451, and this page is from 1495.

The page is from a religious text by St. Gregorius Magnus, Moralia Divi Gregorii omni eru ditione sacraru scriptua. It was printed in Paris by Ulrich Gering and Bertholdus Rembolt.

(The image at the top of the post shows a detail of the type used in the book.)

Just the fact that this new technology of printing was able to travel so quickly to all the capitals of Europe is pretty amazing. What’s equally amazing is that it’s still in good shape 517 years later.

That’s partly due to the “paper” that was used then. It was made from cotton and linen, not from pulped trees. It’s also because it’s from an era well before there was much man-made pollution.

This page shows that books matter, not just because they move, educate or entertain us—but because they last a really long time. This page, and the book it came from, has outlived its creators by centuries.

How long will your books live and speak to readers? We can’t know that with any certainty, but there is something we can do that will help: we can make the best books we can make.

Because books matter.

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    { 9 comments… read them below or add one }

    Carol Costello February 2, 2012 at 6:29 am

    Thanks for another inspirational post, Joel. With a few cogent, well expressed thoughts and short, perfect examples, you remind me how much books DO matter. This blog illustrates not only that books matter, but that writing matters.

    Reply

    doug-eike February 2, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Books do matter, at least the words in them do, and the books preserve the words. I read some with my Kindle, but I’m still enamored with reading from a well-made book. Thanks!

    Reply

    Angela Bertone February 2, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Thank you for your article on the importance of books. In my work as an indie publisher; I considered only publishing my work in ebook form because it was inexpensive and easy. However, my love for books and in consideration of my readers, I chose to do both ebook and paperback. Recently in our writers group we discussed this very issue. All of us concurred that we love to hold the book, smell it and feel its pages. In this evolution of media, I will roll with the changes, but I will also hold fast to my love of books and all the simple pleasures books bring.

    Reply

    Janet Angelo February 2, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Beautifully stated, Joel, and I couldn’t agree more. As an independent publisher, I have always believed in creating a print version along with the ebook version of all my published books. A physical book can travel its way through many people’s lives and across all sorts of physical boundaries, much like what you would discover if you could follow an item of donated clothing as it moves in and out of many people’s lives.

    And printed books were the first harbinger of greater personal freedom for the vast majority of people alive in the 1500s. Before then, they had to trust someone higher up the social and political strata to decide what they ‘should’ know, whether it was the truth or not.

    Having books in your hand that you own, and having the ability to read them for yourself, is the purest form of freedom despite whatever might constrain you mentally, emotionally, socially, politically, and geographically.

    Ebooks have broken geographical barriers, but we all need to remember that if we entrust our ebook versions only to large retailers, those version are owned by those retailers, who can do with them what they will.

    I think it’s wise for every publisher to produce a beautiful print version of the book and to make ebook versions available on any device so that ione retailer and its unique device doesn’t have an iron grip on the one version of that book available to the world.

    Reply

    Gary Roberts February 2, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Joel, I couldn’t agree with you more. To add a bit of new history, book conservationists are finding that a goodly part of the problem with middle 19th C through 20th C books is not necessarily the wood pulp component, although for newsprint or other low quality paper that is a problem: the binding agent used in the paper is also a large part of the reason for acid deterioration in modern papers. Mid and late 19th C papers can be so full of poorly processed wood pulp along with cheap binding agents that the paper turns brittle. Same for more modern papers. Very recent paper is produced with binding agents that are more stable, fibers are carefully processed and the hope is that the paper will last longer.

    But, open a book made before 1850 and you are sure to find good paper. My earliest is a book from 1703. Aside from wear and tear, it looks just as it did when printed. And it won’t need a software upgrade.

    Apologies for the lecture on paper. Lighting Source is now printing on a much higher quality paper and using a stable adhesive in it’s perfect binding machinery. Let’s hope the books last.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Thanks for that, Gary. It was, in fact, the discussion you and others were having about the impermanence of digital formats and readers that prompted this blog post.

    Reply

    Wendy A.M. Prosser February 3, 2012 at 12:06 am

    As much as I love reading (and hopefully publishing!) ebooks, this post shows how ephemeral they are compared with the printed page…

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 3, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Well, they each have their place. Check out Joanna Penn’s article related to this subject, Print Books: The New Vanity Publishing?

    Reply

    Wendy A.M. Prosser February 3, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    Thanks for the link — interesting stuff!

    Reply

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