“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” – Ernest Hemingway
With reading being one of my favorite hobbies my initial intention writing this post was to center on the word “read.” Yet, as I glanced at my overflowing bookshelf I realized I have just as powerful a relationship with the physical books themselves as I do with the stories they contain. With e-books growing in popularity I find myself clutching tighter to my real books than ever before, resolute to never possess a digital library. It is from my deep stubbornness and resentment to e-books this post grows, prompting me to write in homage to the countless books gracing my shelves and spilling onto my bedroom floor.
The beauty of stories, no matter their format, is the incredible ability they have to transport the reader anywhere, allowing one to cast away their reality and live temporarily in another world. This mental escape often permits the reader to return to reality refreshed and with a greater understanding of themselves and the world around them. Many advocate for e-readers by saying it lightens their load making this mental escape more accessible and practical for a busy lifestyle, but with this practice I feel they lose some of the power of those stories. I love feeling the extra weight in my bag for it reminds me that refuge from my current reality is never far away. I can see and feel the promise of escape, adventure and insight as I flip the pages through my fingers. The weight of the cover resting in my palms and the texture of the pages inspires a deep exhale and release whenever I need. It is this promise and sensation that keeps me grounded and tethered to what’s real.
My appreciation for books runs deep, stemming from a childhood emphasizing books and reading. When in the presence of books, I am met with incredible and vivid waves of nostalgia, impossible to ignore. For as long as I can remember, my days have been bookended with books. When I was a child, my parents read to my two brothers and me every night before bed, giving us each a turn to pick out that evening’s story. I remember bringing armfuls of books as suggestions for the bedtime story, stacking them all in tall, precarious piles next to the couch. I remember reading long after bedtime, breezing through the Harry Potter series by reading through the night by the dim glow of my nightlight, ignoring my parents’ knocks on my bedroom door sternly instructing me to go to sleep. I remember budgeting enough room for my book in my backpack by consolidating my school supplies, sometimes leaving home folders and notebooks for class to ensure I had enough space to prevent bending the corners of the book.
From childhood to now, I’m accustomed to having a book with me at all moments. Books have always been a part of my landscape, their presence shaping my environment and enhancing the atmosphere of every situation in my life. The sight of a particular book cover serves as a memento, possessing the power to bring me back to where I was when I first read it. Seeing a familiar book cover from my past not only reminds me of where I was physically when I first opened the cover, but where I was personally, emotionally and mentally.
Avid readers and book lovers are able to construct a timeline of their life based on the books they’ve read – books read while traveling, sitting by a roaring fire escaping the frigid and relentless chill of winter, nursing the pains of a heartbreak or seeking advice about a career choice. For example, I still have the books I read while I was sick in fourth grade for two weeks with influenza, I still have the book I read on my first day at my new high school and the books I read my senior year of college to help define my path after graduation. Throughout all these situations and more I found liberation and inspiration in the total captivation of the book in my hands. The weight of the pages keeping me connected to my morals and ambitions when everything seems out of control. These books still sit on my bookshelf not only as a beautiful display of literature but as a tribute to my life, preserving my past, sculpting my present and motivating my future.
To consolidate the effect of books into one cold, gray mechanism seems insulting to the stories and their readers. Books are cozy and personal, inviting the reader to curl up and lose him or herself in the story. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can’t see curling up with a piece of technology to be very comfortable. In addition to comfort, much of the aesthetic and historical value disappears when converting to e-readers. The cover illustration and font, a delicate and profound art form transcending decades and even centuries, establishes the tone of the story, often possessing as much character and heart as the story itself. Reducing such glorious and thoughtful works of art to a meager thumbnail portrait or eliminating them completely and merely displaying the title in a simple font is a tragic loss of artistic and historical value.
Furthermore, books passed down through generations become treasured, historical artifacts and family heirlooms, composing the landscape of many homes and gatherings throughout time. Survival through years of handling preserves the talent and skill required of the binding process. As skilled publishers ensure books are capable of standing the test of time and wear, they guarantee their dependability, year-to-year and day-to-day.
One cannot properly assert the value of books over e-readers without mentioning the obvious and indisputable fact of reliability. Books will never lose battery power, require an outlet to charge, freeze or crash. Books are constant, offering sanctuary as long as you desire and as long as the pages remain intact. Escape should not be dictated by the longevity of a battery charge. Reading on an electronic device also presents the irresistible temptation to tap open a different app, check your email, social media accounts, or play a game. This creates distracted and anxious circumstances for the reader, diminishing the luxury of reading: ultimate escape. Connecting with a physical book engages all the senses, even smell, making it a restorative and meditative experience.
I have yet to find a channel for escape possessing more power than books. Books and stories have the uncanny ability to offer unshakable quiet and solace during the most chaotic moments in life, a phenomenon I doubt will change. I find my most peaceful moments occur in bookstores and libraries. No matter where I am, when life becomes too much for me to handle, I’ll steal away to the nearest library or bookstore to calm my mind. In the presence of books and the epic characters and stories they contain, life grows quiet and relaxed. Being surrounded by bookshelves instills in me the feeling of utmost safety with the promise of distraction, understanding and entertainment everywhere I look. Seeing titles I recognize from various points in my life, titles that helped shape who I am today, sitting on the shelves loyally offering their stories whenever I should require inspires me to push through life’s toughest challenges. Seeing titles I have yet to read assures me that no matter my position in life, there will always be a book to provide appropriate and resounding insight.
While many prefer to travel with a digital library in their pocket, I know I never will. For as long as books continue to be loyal to me, I will continue to be loyal to them, cherishing their covers and pages for as long as I live.