Blogs by Kalikiano Kalei
A Man of One Book?
2/15/2013 12:49:05 PM
Books are felt by many to be somewhat endangered in our modern age by the advances made in personalised portable electro-mechanical communications devices (read: Kindle, et al). Chances are, however, that you may just be one of those archaic recidivists who simply cannot be without a fully stocked bookshelf of bound volumes full of printed pages. "Hi. My name is Kalikiano and I'm a book addict..."
‘A Man of One Book?’ (In praise of books)
“Dios me libre de un hombre de uno libro!”
(attributed to Don Miguel de Cervantes)
Ever since Johann Gutenberg changed civilisation forever with his magnificent invention of the moveable type printing press, humanity has recorded the vast treasure house of human knowledge on printed pages bound together into something we call a book. To say that this device was responsible for a flowering of the sciences and humanities like no other is grossly understating the impact of the printing press, for prior to Gutenberg’s innovation human knowledge was painstaking recorded either by hand (a process that, in its earliest forms, also quite literally included pounding papyrus into paper) or, in the case of some lesser technologically evolved societies without a written language, by oral tradition.
From that seminal date somewhere in the late 14th century through the present, books have been a vital part of all human development and up until very recently constituted the quintessential infrastructural core of all human understanding and advancement. Only in the past several decades, with the rise of electromechanical communications technology (i.e. the computer, internet, software programs, et al), have books yielded somewhat the importance they formerly held in our civilization (a word that is, surely, an aesthetic oxymoron).
With specific regard to alternatives to the physically printed word, we now have so-called ‘electronic books’ upon which fantastic amounts of information may be stored, selected on command and called forth for visual review. Such is the logarithmic curve of advances in this ‘new’ medium that a recent E-Book reader product is hardly on the market before newer and even more sophisticated counterparts appear. Apart from being somewhat problematic to consumers in the form of accelerated costs required to stay abreast of this trend, there are many who today advocate relying utterly upon such cutting-edge technology. Reading devices such as the ubiquitous Kindle and other ‘E-Books’ undeniably offer many advantages over conventional books in terms of portability and variety of content (given that a single E-book measuring ten by eight inches and weighing only a pound or so may contain hundreds of thousands of books in electronic form), but for some of us nothing shall ever truly replace the many pleasurable aspects of bound books with printed pages.
I’m one of those individuals myself who have no plans to buy an E-Book, despite their relatively reasonable cost and storage capabilities, since a book to me is far more than merely something to read. Certainly books symbolise many different things to people like me, since a book is itself perhaps the penultimate symbol of civilized advancement of human knowledge, but for most of my life I’ve found qualities in books that nothing with a cold electro-mechanical heart will ever satisfactorily be able to replace. That’s not to say that books do not impose many problematic demands, as well, since storage of books presupposes a certain level of maintenance and the many logistical requirements for keeping books also mandate substantial accommodation. Then too, books get dusty and require a certain amount of regular labor-intensive upkeep to remain fresh and well-preserved. Environmental effects such as cold, moist air and heat are all familiar enemies of book lovers, and as for storage…what book lover has never had problems trying to store books so that they can be easily accessed at whim, without installing the complex indexing system of a full-blown (public) library?
I well recall my own struggles with books (as an OCD book addict) over the course of my life, since my natural tendency is and has ever been to acquire, collect and keep as many books as I can in my living quarters. Unless one has tons of money, an established, permanent residence, and/or the willingness to frequently box up and move hundreds of volumes to a new location (the story of my life, at least back in academic days) whenever circumstances demand, being a devout bibliophile is not an easy burden to bear in life. Furthermore, any book addict worth his Unabridged Oxford Dictionary finds it impossible to go into a store or shop selling books without becoming a little crazed. In my case, just entering a book shop instantly imparts a sort of frenetic sense of unease similar to being hopelessly drawn into a vortex of delightful ‘things’ that are absolutely irresistible! I well recall many occasions that upon entry to some quirky little book store I’ve felt myself overcome by a paralysing sense of helplessness, a sort of endemic ‘lost’ feeling such as I imagine being bearing-less in a densely wooded forest would entail. As if that weren’t enough, I could swear at such times I also feel a distinct, if subtly palpable ‘tugging’ at my wallet as I enter any book store.
This suite of sensations can occur at just about any book shop, whether they be specialists in new or old books, and regardless of the size of the purveyor. However, entry into a particularly massive book-selling establishment such as Barnes and Noble is an especially paralysing experience; I’ve been known to become disoriented and experientially distracted for hours on end on similar occasions by the stunning array of rows and rows of books found therein, usually relieved only by the friendly retrieval and determined extraction effort of a wife or close friend to tear me loose from the forces referenced. To get some small fragment of understanding as to how I feel when surrounded by canyons of books, imagine yourself a stone-age primitive, living a dark, grubby life somewhere in an overgrown valley of remotest Borneo, who suddenly catches the fleeting silver flash of an airplane flying high overhead. Yes, I suppose you could almost say that to me, books are God! I feel that strongly about them, having about as much respect for both the external form and contents of a book as a Spanish Roman Catholic would have for a reliquary sliver of The True Cross. Reverential? Yes, decidedly so!
For me, there’s indeed something almost holy about a book, although perhaps this is a subtle indictment of my intelligence being slightly deficit (since that’s what absolute belief or faith in any religious concept equates to, in my considered opinion); I try not to reflect too much on that possibility, of course. My profound regard for books extends, naturally enough, to those complex and kindred souls who possess the wherewithal to organize and set down their thoughts in a manner whereby their reflections are accessible and comprehendible to a wide range of others. Put another way, if books are God, then writers, authors (and inveterate scribblers such as I) are the children of God; editors, publishers and those involved in the transformation of thoughts into printed words become by extension the virtual ‘College of Cardinals’ of the religion of books. Speaking as a profoundly non-believing individual, of course, this whimsical analogue vastly amuses me.
Of course, no one has the absolute luxury of acquiring and retaining books uninterruptedly throughout the entire course of one’s life (or hardly anyone, at least). In my own case, I have grudgingly undergone a fairly repetitive winnowing of my many hundreds of volumes from time to time, over the past 50 years. Ruefully, I recall disposing of superb collections of books on a particular subject in the past, usually painstakingly gathered together at great cost and effort, that I today regret intensely. My ‘Middle East’ collection was one. My ‘Chinese/Japanese Culture and History’ was another. I’ve parted with several collections of military and aviation history, the thought of which literally brings a tear to my eye. Still another was my ‘Bohemian/Beat Culture’ collection that covered that entire 40s/50s era of East and West Coast counterculture. One other (that I particularly miss today) was my mountaineering & climbing collection, spanning many decades of mountain sport both in the US and abroad. Sometimes the impetus to part with these volumes came from the simple logistical mechanics of being a book addict: when you’ve run out of room and you can’t afford (time, space or money) to fund a small Smithsonian in your own home, it’s probably time to think about parting with a few boxes of books. At other times, the polar dichotomy that arises from being half Zen monk and half scientific technogeek is to blame (since the former demands parting with all worldly goods as superfluous material excess, whilst the latter regards books as the sacred trust of scientific technology's accumulated knowledge), but at others, motivation came about through a different medium (such as a usually patient wife who had finally HAD IT with books stuffed into every cranny of ‘her’ house). In this last association, I well recall when two years ago I decided that donating certain collections from my library would be an excellent means of helping fund worthy organisations like the SPCA (to help doggies) whilst benefitting both from a tax-deductible act of charity and maintaining domestic peace.
In the example cited above, I took several hundred volumes of valuable and interesting books to the local SPCA thrift shop, where I was assured that a knowledgeable specialist could list them on eBay to see to it that they brought the highest possible benefit to the charitable organisation. Unfortunately, what I wasn’t told was that all such books were ‘moved’ for the SPCA’s benefit by another specialist book collector who maintained a 50/50 profit-sharing agreement with the charity, meaning that only half of all the proceeds actually went to the SPCA. Duh! Talk about subsequent rueful reflection on my naiveté! It turns out that the SPCA’s volunteer ‘specialist’ was an ex literature professor who well knew the value of these unusually rare books and benefitted substantially from this unmentioned arrangement with the SPCA. No wonder he was so unctuously agreeable about taking my books under his wing! Sigh!
A great number of Americans tend to be collectors (hoarders, accumulators, etc.), seemingly by a little understood natural trait. It’s a curious symptom of American materialism that we ‘Mercans reflexively accumulate a superfluity of possessions throughout our lifetimes, although western Christianity has been preaching against mammon for centuries now (“You can’t serve both God and mammon!”) to no avail. This is likely principally due to the highly material lifestyle foisted off upon consumers by our unique form of corporate capitalist predation (often euphemistically referred to as ‘American style capitalism’). A more specific twist of this sort of American style materialism is the collecting of sub-cultural artifactual trivialities and as a result there is probably no other nation existing in the world today with finer private collections of Coke bottles, PEZ dispensers, coins, guns, militaria, used condoms and you-name-it than ours. Unfortunately, ‘hobby collecting’ has largely gotten out of hand in that the only limits imposed upon this type of anomalous behavior are purely economic (i.e. limitations in disposable personal income). Collecting also appears to have strong socioeconomic class associations in that PEZ collectors tend to be middle class and Ferrari collectors tend to be Bill Gates and Warren Buffet types, but the fact that most collectors end up being suffocated by the sheer quantities of individual things in their collections is often lost on these oblivious souls until it's too late. In a larger sense, it’s not unlike being chained to immovable weights and it acts to immobilise the spirit and severely encumber, rather than free up, the human soul.
Books can have the same effect to some extent, of course, but their brilliant saving grace is that whereas collectors of sub-cultural artifacts (read: ‘Kitsch’) end up largely as custodians for aggregations of soulless material flotsam and jetsam, book collectors at least possess great knowledge and wisdom at their fingertips (assuming they aren’t merely collectors of printed erotica and porn, of course) for their troubles. It’s a pleasing rationalization to delude one's self with, at any rate!
With regards to the present electronic revolution in E-Books, a Kindle will never be able to equal the esoteric pleasure afforded by the physical presence of a bound book in one’s hand. Grasping the plastic case of a Kindle is hardly capable of conferring the same degree of tactile pleasure as holding a bound volume of some thinker's printed reflections. Then there is something about the pleasure of pseudo-kinetic interaction with a book on a deeply personal level, to the extent that some especially meaningful books actually become ‘old friends’ over a period of time. Such interactions with an electro-mechanical reading device hardly have the same attractive appeal. Being able to insert a simple book-marker in a book, interrupt one’s perusals and take them up again somewhat later at will has a further sort of refined aesthetic allure that has no comparable equal in the sterile world of E-Books.
I should perhaps state that I am not the compleatly (sic) unreconstructed Luddite to the extent that I refuse to acknowledge the usefulness and utility that an E-Book occasionally offers, since in certain situations (such as when traveling) an E-Book is a handy and eminently practical option to avail. That said, unless portability is a major issue, I will always tend to prefer my present relationship with printed volumes of words to that of scanning an LCD display, and book shelves will forever be a vital, meaningful and comforting part of my life (even if my young Siberian bitch continues to demonstrate an unending enthusiastic appetite for my prized books; at least she’s got excellent taste in authors!).
Life's most deeply fulfilling pleasures should be (and usually are) simple and basic. A good satisfying f***, a healthy dump, the aroma of a cup of freshly ground coffee, a hot shower, a leisurely winter's read in a comfortable chair by a warm hearth, a beautiful sunset in the company of a favorite dog. All these are best done without the assistance of technological wizardry and that statement certainly extends to the enjoyment of clever thoughts set down in print by some gifted journalist or writer. To my great regret, those simple moments of deep fulfillment are, in our superficial and tastelessly commercialised culture, adversely altered by our culture’s childlike (read: superficial) fascination with science and technology. As a new generation grows up joined at the eye/ear neural nexus to electronic communications devices, all the wonderful benefits of ‘old fashioned’ books increasingly seem to be lost in the rote-process shuffle of E-media obsessions. Whereas books generally stimulate creative imagination and prompt the development of a broader and more all-encompassing awareness of life’s immense possibilities, E-media lays everything out with the cold, sterile and highly impersonal functionality of a literary forensics specialist; no secrets unexplained and everything starkly outlined with irritating clarity. Surrounded by a cocoon of technological gimcrackery, the wonderful luxury of serene thoughtfulness and reflective tranquility offered by books (that is part of our functional heritage as sentient beings) is so greatly diminished as to ultimately threaten the extinction of our species.
But perhaps that’s a good thing, after all, since human beings (read: men, mostly...) have demonstrated over the prior millennia that their inherent capability for destructiveness, violence and short-sighted, narrowness of perceptivity are traits of the species that are largely both ineradicable and untreatable (not to mention behaviorally terminal). My friends have long since tired of hearing my sentiment that Ma Nature is vastly overdue to ‘disappear’ humanity and repeat her efforts to come up with a more enlightened higher evolved life form (hopefully with greater potential for self-development than Homo Sapiens), but it's an awkward truth that is ill-served by Pollyanna-like attempts to delude ourselves.
Since that (the extinction of the race) will likely not happen for several hundred more years (by which time I’ll be long gone and forgotten, to my great relief), all any of us can do is continue to learn as much as we can about the human experience until our own personal point of departure is reached (not that it will achieve any measure of benefit for anyone other than ourselves). And the best way to do that, in my humble opinion, is through enjoyment of printed books as the principal instrument of attaining wisdom and understanding, since at least there’s no danger of running out of electrical ‘juice’ (‘Low Battery Warning’) halfway through a read of Tolstoy’s ‘War & Peace’…
As the television series Hawaii 5-0 so delightfully phrased it (in the original 1960s series, not the sleezy pop-cultural modern reincarnation), “Book ‘em, Danno…!” I, for one, would make book on that!-Kalikiano (a man of MANY books!)
More Blogs by Kalikiano Kalei
A Man of One Book? - Friday, February 15, 2013
Painting the roses red... - Thursday, December 27, 2012
Waiting for the elevator... - Friday, December 14, 2012
Fifty Shades of Crimson... - Tuesday, November 13, 2012
'Lawn Order' in the Land of Oz - Tuesday, March 13, 2012
With Lawrence in Arabia and Me at the Motor-V - Monday, February 27, 2012
Two-Wheeling in a Four-Wheeling World... - Thursday, February 16, 2012
That Big Sucking Sound on New Year's Eve - Wednesday, December 28, 2011
The Vintner of our Incontinence...Solstice 2011 - Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Hawaiian Dogs and Cats: 'Ilio and Popoki - Wednesday, November 16, 2011
In the beginning there were the Boozefighters... - Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Flagging Enthusiasms (Andy Rooney-like Thoughts) - Thursday, October 06, 2011
A Victim of Gravity: Grave Undertakings - Friday, September 30, 2011
Do not go gentle into that good night... - Thursday, September 01, 2011
Conscionable Social Anarchy for Politically Correct Luddites - Friday, July 22, 2011
Vulgarity as a top-selling US export - Sunday, June 05, 2011
An American Narcissus - Monday, April 18, 2011
AAA: The Automobile Addicts of America - Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Smiling Faces or Rhesus Sardonicus? - Wednesday, March 16, 2011
The breast things in life... - Thursday, February 24, 2011
Screwing the pooch... - Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Rolling Stoned (and other gene-pool culling activities) - Friday, February 11, 2011
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Bullshit Nation - Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Winter Solstice...a short sidereal salvo - Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Autumnal Thoughts at Equinox - Sunday, October 10, 2010
Turning and Burning with Huli-Huli Chicken... - Sunday, August 08, 2010
Afghanistan: A PROZAC moment?...NOT! - Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Women Hold Up Half the Sky (and just a bit more) - Sunday, September 27, 2009
Triathletes Rock, Baby!... - Sunday, September 06, 2009
Everything you know is WRONG! - Friday, August 28, 2009
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The wreck of the USS America... - Wednesday, May 27, 2009
What a drag...er...DRUG! - Monday, April 13, 2009
A Slow Blog to Shibboleth - Saturday, March 21, 2009
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The Ever-Widening Pyramidicity Paradigm - Sunday, February 22, 2009
Rider's Block...those are the breaks...er, brakes! - Thursday, November 27, 2008
As Easy as a Bridge... - Sunday, November 23, 2008
Yelping joyfully into that deep forever night..... - Sunday, November 02, 2008
Death as a cure for all problems.... - Sunday, October 26, 2008
A Fart in the Arse of the Universe - Sunday, August 03, 2008
Field Notes: Observations on 'Homo Sapiens' - Friday, July 25, 2008
An Unnatural Disaster - Friday, May 16, 2008
Life in the 'OTHER Walden Pond'... - Friday, April 18, 2008
Redman's Revenge! - Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The Stupid Factor - Monday, March 17, 2008
Sermon for Today: Shallow Depths! - Sunday, March 16, 2008
The Howdy-Doodit Show - Friday, March 14, 2008
Jesus Loves Kinky Friedman - Thursday, March 13, 2008
In Arm's Way... - Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Passing the Torch - Thursday, March 06, 2008
Imagine - Friday, February 29, 2008
Scratch the Man, Find the Child. - Thursday, February 28, 2008
The 'Governator' in Sun Valley - Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Tales of Manpower and Horsepower - Friday, February 15, 2008
Getting High - Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Da Arda Gud Riting - Tuesday, February 05, 2008
The Grand Panjandrum Speaks - Thursday, January 31, 2008
Notes From the Bunker - Wednesday, January 30, 2008
I Piss on You From a Great Height! - Tuesday, January 29, 2008
An Ocean Ran Through it - Saturday, January 26, 2008
Why are we hated so much? - Tuesday, January 22, 2008
A Dark and Stormy Night - Monday, January 21, 2008
Just Some Idiot Pounding on a Drum - Sunday, January 20, 2008
Not Celine's Children... - Friday, January 18, 2008