On the virtues of a hardback . . . book

Napoleon in the Battle of Moskowa in 1812. Thr...

Napoleon in the Battle of Moskowa in 1812 . . . haven't gotten to this yet.

 

Well, as I slog my way through War and Peace, I thought I should try to write a bit on my blog so as not to lose the interest of the many, many fans I have acquired (Hi, Mom!)    

As far as my current read goes, I really am pleasantly surprised.  It’s not difficult to read at all.  The language is very accessible and almost conversational at times, though granted, a conversation from a different century.  Being an epic, the cast of characters is vast, and I am having some problems remembering who all of the people are between their appearances.  The action flips back and forth from Moscow to St. Petersburg to various battlefields in Austria, and there are a number of individual story lines that occasionally cross paths in order to keep the story united.  And let’s keep in mind that after a week of reading I am not even 300 pages into this tome of almost 1400 pages, so these are preliminary observations at best.    

One special note:  Tolstoy has quite a way with his description of battle.  It’s interesting and surprising, particularly having never been under fire myself and hoping to never have the pleasure.  It’s a different kind of battling than the modern warfare of heat seeking missiles and drones, or even the early 20th century battles of bombs dropped from airplanes and every soldier with a gun.  Communications during Tolstoy’s clashes are slow or non-existent between various regiments.  There are horses and swords and guns that require packing and flint before firing.  Death tended to be slow and painful, brought about by simple infections, exhaustion and hunger, and not necessarily from the immediate result of battle wounds.  Today, people say that things seem to move in slow motion during traumatic events like car accidents or bomb explosions, but events really were in slow motion in those battles considering how instantaneously we can now transmit messages and even death.  Tolstoy’s battle scenes are an insightful peek into a different way of war.    

And speaking of technology and communication, we now live in a time where you don’t even have to own a book in order to read a literary work.  As a bibliophile, you would think that I am opposed to this sort of thing, but I actually embrace it.  In spite of my advanced age, I have had computers in my house since I was a tween . . . a word that I don’t think existed when I was a tween, by the way.  This was thanks to my father who had a fascination with gadgets and was what marketers today call a “first adopter”.  I still remember that huge Apple computer with the floppy disk drives, the tiny monitor with the glowing, monochromatic typeface on the black background.  It was fascinating to me at the time, but I had absolutely no idea how it was going to literally change the world.  Now I have more processing power in my cell phone than in that old Apple II computer, and I don’t even use a smart phone!    

I have yet to purchase a tablet reader, but I have a number of friends who use them, and I imagine that they are nearly indispensable to today’s college students.  The iPad is high up on my “to be purchased” list, along with a smart phone (sorry, Apple, I don’t have AT&T and refuse to switch) and a new pair of red high heels.  I’d really rather wait to make my tablet purchase until after it is sand and water proof . . . or at least resistant.  After all, I live at the beach, and I don’t want to destroy such a stylish and expensive piece of technology by dropping it in a sand dune, but I might have break down and buy it sooner just because.    

I foresee myself using the tablet to read periodicals and using it to replace the multiple books I usually carry when I travel.  I can’t possibly run the risk of being caught without reading materials, and an Internet connected reader will make it possible to decide at the very last minute what I would like to read next . . . an amazing convenience!  However, I can’t see entirely giving up on the printed word.  Perhaps it’s just simple nostalgia that will be eventually overcome by the progression of time and technology, but, to echo a common refrain out there, there’s just something about holding the weight of a book in your hand as you read, turning the pages, feeling your progress through the story by the location of the bookmark.    

Most recently, I have also realized the distinct difference between reading a paperback book and a hardback book, and how truly wonderful the nearly lost art of reading an old-fashioned hardback book is.  The smell of the leather cover and the crisp stiff pages, the relatively substantial heft of the book, the silk lined cover, the gilt-edged paper, the smooth gold ribbon book mark, the embossed design and lettering on the binding . . . an overall richness that lends significance and gravity to the work within before you have even read page one.  I read Crime and Punishment in a red leather-bound edition like this and it made me want to curl up by a fire with a cup of hot tea.  Granted, I am currently enduring the dog days of summer and tea is not my normal drink of choice, but I compensated by turning up the AC and drinking hot chocolate.  The mechanics of reading a hardback book make it difficult to read while lying in bed, but this too seems to add to the importance of the work.  One cannot lounge while reading, but must sit up and give full attention in order to succeed.    

I think that often I read too casually, much in the manner that I digest sitcoms or fast food:  skimming with only partial attention and very little of merit left behind when it is over.  I am the first to admit that there is a certain pleasure in French fries, but it cannot be the only food you eat and they are certainly not the building blocks that will sustain you and make you a better person.  I know that the world is headed the way of the Matrix where you shove a plug into the back of your head and upload everything you need to know, but I hope against hope that there will always remain the families that sit around a table sharing dinner and conversation as well as the people who like to curl up with a book . . . one with a cover and pages, I mean.    

On the other hand, I think I would’ve sprained my wrist by now if I were reading War and Peace in hardback . . . to each job, the appropriate tool, I guess.    

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. gracefullgirll
    Sep 14, 2010 @ 16:28:04

    I completely agree with you – it is nice to read from a real, solid book. That way the end can’t sneak up on you! I had that happen once with a digital book . . . it was very odd. However, as you also point out, there are times when you can’t beat the convenience of a small, compact device with multiple books.

    Reply

  2. David P
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 01:24:25

    We just bit the bullet and bought an iPad. Great for reading the Times, but less great for a long read. Kind of burns the eyes.

    Reply

  3. David P
    Sep 22, 2010 @ 20:13:17

    Nope. I figured that the iPad could do mupliple things for us, whereas the Kindle does just one thing. Apple products are proliferating at my place. Given that I must re-boot my PC once a day, its not surprising.

    Reply

  4. Trackback: I’m baaaaack! « On the Shoulders of Giants

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