Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Sarah Wilson
English 201
Essay 4
December 2003

The Perfect Spot

I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books. My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them. There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great book-case on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parent’s interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves. I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.

~C.S. Lewis, from Surprised by Joy, as qtd. in A Passion for Books

Old pages, loved and treasured. Spines standing firm and tall on the bookshelf. Beloved titled such as The Chronicles of Narnia, The Man Who Was Thursday, and The Secret Garden. Revered authors like Agatha Christie, G. K. Chesterton, and Dorothy Sayers. The memories associated with Jane Eyre and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—I remember staying up late to read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and getting so scared when Dr. Jekyll woke up to find that his hand was not his own, but Mr. Hyde lying across the bedspread. Freaky. But what happened next was worse. I had to go use the bathroom (no, that’s not the scary part) and as I walked past the stairs, I heard a thunderous banging….

What pastime or hobby can be compared to the joy of reading? What can be more glorious than the joy of going to the bookshelf and finding The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe—seeing not just a book, but greeting the face of an old friend from childhood, despite crazy cats who bang on doors at all hours of the night—scaring the wits out of someone who just read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Not everyone shares the same love of books that I and other nerds like me do. But hopefully I am not the only one who does not understand the phenomena that is spreading across the Internet and even the libraries: online books. Yuck.

According to Sven Birkerts, a teacher and an author, "a change is upon us—nothing could be clearer. The printed word is part of a vestigial order that we are moving away from—by choice and by societal compulsion" (562). It is very possible that "real" books will someday be a thing of the past, and e-books will be the norm.

Recently I was doing research on the computer, and surprised to discover the amount of these e-books. While on the school’s library site, I found many titles that said: "No holding available. Online Source", or something to that effect. I clicked on the link, and found a mini version of a book. There it was, titles of the chapters to the side in a box, and a larger box containing what the actual page looked like. You clicked on the arrows provided to proceed to the next page. I didn’t want to take the time to skim through all that information. I mean, a whole book? I really don’t like skimming real books at any rate—that takes a long time, and who wants to stare at a computer screen for hours doing that very thing?

From reading the above, one might guess that I am a technology-hating, Internet-scorning, anti-progress, old-fashioned freak. On the contrary: I love what the computer and the Internet has done for school and research. It’s so much easier to sit down and write an essay on Microsoft Word than in a notebook with an actual pen or pencil. For instance, I can erase whole sentences with just a keystroke. I can move whole paragraphs around with just dragging my mouse around the screen. I can go online and find articles for school that are up-to-date and relevant to my topics in just a matter of seconds. The computer has changed the whole way students do research, and I think it is a helpful tool.

Hey, wait a second. Did you catch that last phrase? "A helpful tool." That’s what the Web is. Even the computer itself is only that—a tool, a resource. I’m not arguing that the Internet should be only used for work, either. Dude, I love getting e-mail from friends and playing around on my online blogging site. I can change the way my site looks in a matter of seconds—that’s fun! I can put pictures of my cat on my site, if I want to. I can sit down and write off a message about virtually anything (like the sad day when I found out that we have to start wearing purple polo shirts at my retailing job) and know that my pals in California and France will receive in the next day or two, and respond with sympathy (at least, in regard to purple polo shirts). Being able to zip off notes to dear friends who live in Texas or Arizona is real blessing. But the Web is only a "tool" for communication.

E-books can be tools for communication as well. There are many benefits to reading one: I don’t have to visit a bookstore or the library to read an online book. I can go to the school library, for example, and pull one up on my screen. Our textbook mentions electronic books and memory cards—speaking for the Library of Congress, Robert Zich "expresses excitement about Sony’s hand-held electronic book" (Birkerts 566). Already electronic books and memory cards are a reality. This would be a college student’s dream—just grab your texts on disk, instead of lugging around heavy textbooks, breaking your back every time you have to go to class. Yay!

For good or ill, however, electronic books have not caught on for the general public. They have been around for a few years, but not many people have them—how often do you see a student gazing into an electronic book, feverishly studying for a test? Not to mention that the textbook industry itself is huge—it makes huge profits every year, and I would imagine it would not want to give up its monopoly so easily.

Another argument that one might hear in favor of online books is that you stare at one just like you would stare at a real book. But as Birkerts says, there is a certain intimacy with the printed page: "The print engagement is essentially private. While it does represent an act of communication, the contents pass from the privacy of the sender to the privacy of the receiver" (564). It is a private interchange of ideas, of communication—a silent communication. Our modern world is so loud; it demands our complete attention, both visually and audibly. But books are so non-intrusive, and the Web is so open and public—anyone can read anything anytime. Web sites have graphics that move, and some even have sounds and music. We sometimes need the benefits of silence and stillness that real books provide.

I hate being interrupted while reading, too. You know, when at the last chapter of a really good book, like The Lord of The Rings, or The Hound of the Baskervilles, and someone, a little brother perhaps, starts talking to you, demanding your attention ("Sarah, can we play Legos?"). I’m like, "Uh, no!!! Can’t you see I’m reading? I’m at the best part when the Hobbits come home to the Shire, only to find that Saruman has invaded Bag End!" Obviously, I am so nerdy that such a disturbance would be unbalancing. Reading for me is so personal that I can’t bear to be interrupted. Besides, what if the ending turned out differently than last time—like what if Saruman survives and takes over Middle Earth?

Books were often my best friends growing up. I spent many hours pouring over The Boxcar Children and Little Rhody. I’d wander up and down the fiction aisles at the library, finding all kinds of obscure books. Books hold special memories for me. I’ve visited Manderly. I’ve been to Thornfield. I’ve been to Piccadilly Street. I’ve been to the Stone Table. I’ve been to the Shire. I’ve been all over, thanks to my books. Today, books are my escape from the pressures and responsibilities that school and two jobs impose. I’d hate to curl up with my computer on a cold winter’s night with hot chocolate (I might spill on the computer anyway) to read Till We Have Faces or The Silver Chair. Heck, I even work in a bookstore, where our software section is tiny compared to the book section. And as a writing tutor, I also work with people on their essays who bring in their work on "real" paper.

To say the least, the idea of completely merging print with the computer screen sends horror deep into the inner most parts of my book-loving soul. For me, there is room enough on my desk for both a computer and a bookshelf. Balance, like all things, in life, is essential. Where we are in the world of technology seems to be the perfect spot—schools and classes requiring knowledge of how to read and how to work the Web. People reading books for pleasure, and for work and school, or emailing for fun, or working on that last essay on Microsoft Word is the perfect balance of technology and something as old-fashioned as reading.

 

Works Cited

Birkerts, Sven. "Into the Electronic Millennium". Reflections on Language. Eds. Steve Hirschberg and Terry Hirschberg. New York: Oxford University Press. 1999. 560-569.

Glaspey, Terry W. A Passion for Books. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers. 1998.

 

Copyright 2003
Sarah Wilson

 

Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA
1999-2015