Rick Brookhiser on Books

He thinks reports of their demise are premature. For one thing they are optimally user- friendly:

“Books have already found the optimal size. “You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket,” John Adams told one of his sons—and that was two centuries ago, long before paperbacks. Big books push the limit; some readers of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy razored the tome into eight or 10 more portable sections. But one reason the book has had such a long run is that most books fit the hand.
“Books also optimize the user’s experience. Computers allow us to mix and match the musical tracks we like, bringing us all into the paradise envisioned by wacky Glenn Gould, holed up in his studio, playing with his recorded takes and sampling a few bars of this and a few of that to create the perfect performance. Now anyone can do the same to his version of the Goldberg Variations, playing only the even-numbered pieces, or playing the whole thing backward. But books have always allowed readers to do this; their technological breakthrough, centuries before computing or even electricity, was the page. The page allows you to read over and over, to skip ahead or flip back, with no more effort than the flick of a finger. Even a Dark Ages chieftain might have felt awkward asking his bard to stop and recite the bit about Grendel’s mother again, but readers have been making comparable choices for ages.”

3 thoughts on “Rick Brookhiser on Books”

  1. Let alone taking your laptop into the bathTUB with you!!

    When I first read this essay, I was impressed that on reason that books fit the hands is that there are two hands and books are bilateral, unlike the big folio pages of the early years. Bilateralism is a much underrated characteristic — or maybe just unnoticed. Who was it who went to study to become a scientist and was assigned a fish to study, day after day? Enlightenment came late — the fish was bilateral. On the outside. Like us. But we have two lungs — why only one heart, liver and pancreas? Maybe there’s a book that will explain.

  2. Peter Koch spoke about this also and would probably agree with Brookhiser on the durability of the medium.

    His explanation was that the Internet and other media “free up” the book to become even more of and better at what it is and does. Without having to convey the mundane info books formerly held, they can become vehicles for pure pleasure. And pleasure ain’t going away, is my guess. 🙂


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