July 13, 2005

Rare books

Books and manuscripts are interesting things, I think. I spend way too much of my day reading things in electronic form. Just pixels on a screen arranged to form letters or images all to convey information. It is a rather cold and lifeless experience. To me, reading online can never replace the book. The book is a much fuller experience. The heft of it, the feeling of the papers on your fingers, the sound it makes when you turn the page, the slippery cover of a new book, the excitement of turning the page. Reading a book is tactile. Reading a screen is not.

Older books are more tactile still because they also smell different. The bindings are often nicer, too. There is something quite wonderful about a nice binding.

I have been thinking, idly, about old books and manuscripts of late. About the attraction they hold for so many collectors. Heck, even used books can become an obsession for some. Ever been to the Strand in NYC? Or browse the book sellers along the Seine in Paris? Addictive, I tell you.

But none of this would have been possible without the invention of moveable type and the printing press. Without Gutenberg, who can say just how we'd be transmitting information and ideas to large numbers of people. I don't think it's a stretch to say that Gutenberg made our world possible and without him, the world would be completely different.

At least, that's what I was thinking the other day when I found myself in the NY Public Library (Main Branch, 41st and 5th), very near my office, all by myself, except for a guard, contemplating the first Gutenberg Bible to make its way to these fair shores. They have it on display at the library. I stood there, all alone, and contemplated the page printed in 1455, the page that changed the world.

Go see it if you can. It's on display until the end of the year. I think it may be the most important thing ever to happen. If you disagree, I'm happy to debate it.

Posted by Random Penseur at July 13, 2005 01:59 PM | TrackBack

I couldn't agree more, and am insanely jealous.

Posted by: Jennifer at July 13, 2005 02:09 PM

I don't disagree with you, but would like to hear your side of the debate anyway.

Posted by: CJ at July 13, 2005 03:46 PM

Oh, I love the feel of paper. The Internet is a wonderful thing, but I can't (or won't!) take a computer into the bathtub. It's not cozy to read by lamplight in bed. I can pull a book out of my backpack and read a few pages during a picnic lunch on the top of a mountain without wondering if there's a Wi-Fi connection there...I could go on (even more)!

How exciting to see a Gutenberg Bible. All of my reservations about the *content* of that manuscript aside, it's an awesome piece of history.

Posted by: Allison at July 13, 2005 06:16 PM

"the excitem ent of turning the page"

Yikes, I've never thought about that 'til just now. The reaching the end of one leaf and turning it over to continue. You actually feel like you're making progress as you read along. Excellent observation, RP!

Posted by: Tuning Spork at July 13, 2005 11:09 PM

No arguments here. I went to see it and it was absolutely a breathtaking experience. Like seeing the Declaration of Independance or a portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The amazement and wonder it produces is memorable.

As for addictive...INDEED! I am a bibliophile addict and have passed it on to my son.

Posted by: michele at July 14, 2005 12:14 PM

Wow.. the first Gutenburg... yep, I think that's probably one of the most important things of recent history that I can think of and probably one of the most groundbreaking.

I'm glad you're writing again, I've missed you.

Posted by: Hannah at July 15, 2005 04:22 PM

"Wear The old coat and buy the new book". Old Proverb. Probably Yiddish.

Posted by: Mark at July 17, 2005 11:22 PM
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