Holding an actual book

I will make two promises on this new approach to blogging:

-I will not talk about religion

-I especially will not talk about politics

But I will occasionally lapse into musings, or some of the things that keep me up at night. This is my blog and the place to pick my brain, after all.

Here’s one:

The value of holding a physical book in your hand.

This has a lot more meaning than might be obvious.

No, it’s not just about the psychology of how reading a book in print invokes different kinds of memory and experience (ie tactile). For me, it’s about what the gesture represents, more than anything else.

I’m typing this post up on my phone. Before this, I was reading my way through a print book (The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith). When I read a book, I by far prefer to read something physical.

It goes a step further. When I take notes, I write them on a cue card with a pen. When I look up words, I collect them by writing out the definition in a small-page binder. I do this for all notes, even when I’m reading through Wikipedia.

I’ve tried typing things up at my computer, but it’s not the same. It’s like reading at my computer: a different experience.

A few weeks ago on the BBC Global Podcast, which I listen to when driving, I heard an interview with experts discussing consciousness. The leading argument in question: panpsychism.

This is the idea that your chair is conscious. This blog post you’re reading right now is also conscious. In reading it, you are communing with it in your own way, like having coffee with a friend, except in a language of exchange much deeper than that.

If I wrote this blog post out by hand, it would have a different consciousness, the same way as J.R.R. Tolkien would be the same essential person if born as a woman instead of a man (but be completely different and unique).

What is consciousness? Such a deep question that keeps me up and often keeps me pondering.

So the book I’m reading, it’s just a book, printed by a printer, the words set in place by an author, tailored by collaboration. The ink came from a machine, spattered on the page by fine motor control and precision. That ink itself came perhaps from a chemical factory, or maybe even (at least in part) from the ocean itself as in the old days. The paper came from trees, and those trees grew in the forest, took in water, spread their roots. So many things come together to make that book. All these things, perhaps, may be the life and soul of its consciousness, if this new possible theory to explain consciousness turns out to be true.

Imagine that. Your day is a conversation with things in a language you don’t even know you speak. You are surrounded by life in manner beyond your comprehension.

Is it any wonder why a simple thing like taking a deep breath, closing your eyes and focusing on it, can be a life and world unto itself?

Oh the possibilities!

I still don’t have an answer for why reading a physical book translates to be something different than digital. Maybe I’m old fashioned. Or maybe I’m too attached to a dying trend. Or maybe . . . it’s not so much attachment as it is listening, listening to this older way that lives and breathes in the printed, tangible thing, a way that refuses to die, a way that asks us to remember, in our deepest hearts.

Here’s to the book, the printed book. Here’s to it being the last furniture remaining in our completely digital homes of the future. Here’s to a pillar to remind us always of what we are, like trees in the forest, bigger and older than us, in which we are immersed.

About John Robin

John Robin is an epic fantasy writer, professional editor, and lover of imaginary worlds. He write stories about magic and myth, human suffering and the power to rise above it. He loves world building, coffee shops, mathematics, chess, and is an avid author community builder.
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5 Responses to Holding an actual book

  1. Rach Adams says:

    My brain hurts now, but that’s okay. It means you made it twitch with the above consciousness conundrum. My comment, however pertains to the physical acts being better for some people than digital acts. I had a teacher, way back in high school, that told us, some of us learn by processes. My thought was, she’s making an excuse for giving us so many notes and expecting us to have notes in our journals. But as I attended college, joined the corporate workforce, and even now, do my own research, I have realized she was correct. I happen to remember things better and more clearly if I physically write them down; if I read them from a physical book and turn pages. When I type a research notation, I rarely remember the details as much as I remember such things when I write them down with pen/pencil and paper. Anyway, keep plugging away at the blog, phone or tablet or desktop, it’s appreciated.

    • John Robin says:

      Thank you so much for your comment Rachel! It’s so good to hear I’m not just an oddball with my handwriting mania! I also like that you say it’s more about learning by processes — and that means everyone’s gonna be different. I’m working through my book reading for the week now and the one thing I’ve come to love the most is when I stop to look up a word — and write it down in my little 2”x4” binder (it’s cute!). Talk about a rewarding process. I’d never remember concertinaed glass without it, or get a moment to draw a diagram. So much can be lost in the digital, which is why I think having grounding habits to complement is excellent!

  2. Yicheng Liu says:

    I feel like this might not necessary be the insightful take, but I’m a fan printed books as well. I think its pretty cool that we have the collected knowledge of humanity at fingertips with an internet connection, but there’s something intimate about reading a physical copy of a book. You get touch it, smell it, and interact with it in a tactile sense that you can’t really replicate with eBooks. Though there’s a fine line between appreciating printed books and fetishising printed books as an untouchable pinnacle of achievement.
    I love books and literature in all its forms, whatever language, because it is us monkeys communicating our brain farts with each other from beyond the threshold of space, time, and mortality. Isn’t that a nice way of looking at it?

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