A Tome’s Greatest Worth

An excerpt of my writings on an adventure in John Windle Antiquarian Books. ‘The girl’ is me.

…They read through a beautifully embossed leather tome, consisting only of the illustrated poem Lenore. The girl remarked how much better it was to waste such space and care as that on beauty than it was to condense the written word into infinitesimal flecks of data.

Who, three hundred years hence, she asked, would download a list of ancient files, and marvel that they had works so original, they were no longer compatible with the oldest reader available? No, the works that lasted would be updated, every renewal fresh and sterile, for one could not press their face into a hundred-year-old file and smell the smell of age. What was the scent of a line of zeros and ones? Where was the aesthetic wonder in intangible technology?

The proprietor looked up from his work, and, not knowing how much he’d heard, she summarized, “Lamenting the rise of the E-reader.”

“Funny you should mention that,” he said with a small smile. “I live and die by my Kindle.” He gestured at a black pack that presumably held the cited Kindle. “I use it for my travels.”

Well. If the master of this magical little shop was going to side with technology, what could she rejoin? Surely the man knew the enchantment of the printed word better than did she.

“The way I see it,” he explained, “people will buy books on here, more than they otherwise would, and once they’ve read something several times and like it, then they would buy a bound copy as a collector’s item.”

He flicked his fingers at a shelf. “It’s nice to have a shelf full of your favorites, not just a virtual library of I-forget-how-many-I-have.”

She considered, and supposed she could understand the argument for digital and physical copies going hand-in-hand. She conceded the point, and it was only later that she noticed that it might be odd, that one her age had been balking at the newfangled idea, and had been talked ‘round to progress by a man several decades her senior…

I found a poem within this adventure– The whole of it is on the poetry page of my website.

What is a page but a holder of ink,
And the ink, but a former of words?
Is it not in the words that the worlds are formed and the world is evermore stirred?

Is the medium naught but the sum
Of the message there scripted or scrawled?
Is there nothing so grand about paper and hand, is the story and poetry all?

Aye, surely I’ll say that the tale is most,
That the words are a tome’s greatest worth,
But covers to linger o’er, pages to finger o’er, these are yet treasures of earth…

What are your thoughts on the rise of the E-reader? Rejoicing? Lamentation? Some combination?

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5 comments

  1. My number one biblio-love will ever be physical books. E-books may contain real stories — may be the product of real authorial labors of love — but they don’t feel like real *books* to me, only *files*. I like to feel the weight and finger the pages; what’s more, a paper page is beyond the reach of technological difficulties, and can only crash so hard.
    Were I to ever give in and purchase an e-reader (or have one gifted to me), I would probably find myself in a position opposite to that described by John Windle’s proprietor: Choosing favorites from among my collection of paper books and get them again as digital copies, the better to carry around with me everywhere, my dear. And when my novels go public, of course I’d prefer to make them available in both formats; but could it only be one, I’d vote for the old school.
    So long as I and my diehard kind exist, so too shall the ink-scribed tales!

  2. Tirzah . . . I just “met” your mother tonight on Facebook. She pointed me to your site. Love your work, especially “The Tome’s Greatest Worth”. I’ve published four books, one full length novel of suspense and three in a series of historical adventures for young adults. (Johnny Vic is a boy with a magical metal detector that brings him back thru time to meet people of the past). I’ll be following you!

  3. Hi Tirzah! I didn’t forget about you. We all can figure out pretty quickly the pluses and minuses of e-readers, and there will be die-hards in both camps. Here is a feature of my e-reader that makes it worth it’s weight in gold to me. Like many readers of books, I have a fairly large vocabulary, And like many lazy readers, my knowledge is mainly contextual. I do not carry a dictionary with me and I am too lazy to look up a word when I run across one I have not seen before-especially when I can pretty much noodle it out. Having a built-in dictionary that I don’t even have to pick up to use, and one that automatically looks up the word in question is, in a word, fabulous! I find myself stopping frequently to nail down a definition that may have been a shade hazy in the past. I have always been a bit of an etymology nut, and with my e-reader’s dictionary I can indulge myself to my heart’s content. Don’t think I am a stranger to dictionaries; on the contrary, I have spent many hours reading them and studying words. I just never wanted to interrupt the read to look something up. The danger being that I might get lost over there! All the best to you! Cheers

    1. Greetings, Brent! I never supposed you had. And very good point– I had not considered that advantage at all! While loving (and getting lost in) dictionaries, I certainly would not interrupt a story for them. On-The-Spot Dictionary would be a very handy feature. Congrats, Brent; You have swayed me greatly in a few words. 🙂

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