A fantastic piece Leon Wieseltier on the the book as an object, libraries, and reading. One of my favorite parts:
There is something inhuman about the pristinity of digital publication. It lacks fingerprints. But the copy of a book that is on my shelf is my copy. It is unlike any other copy, it has been individuated; and even those books that I have not yet opened—unread books are an essential element of a library—were acquired for the further cultivation of a particular admixture of interests and beliefs, and every one of them will have its hour.
I was thinking about this on my way home last week. I’ve been reading The New Yorker on the my train rides to and from work and as I turned the page, I noticed my sweaty finger smudged the ink on the page, dirtying my hand. “That doesn’t happen when I read on my iPad,” I thought, “Sometimes print is still better.”
Peter Mendelsund adds his own thoughts on the piece, and books in general:
But this piece of writing will not, after all, become part “of my biography” the way physical texts do, as it will invariably vanish into the uncultivated, undifferentiated, un-curated part of my brain reserved for the mass of digital information, mediated by screens, that flows untrammeled through my fractured awareness almost every waking hour of every day (I’m not saying this particular article deserves to be preserved. I’m just using it as a case study). That is to say: I will forget it. It is not, and cannot be, mine in any lasting respect. Sure–this article can be saved, in the same way my photos and my music are saved, to my hard drive. But every last article I’ve abandoned to those digital archives, just like all of those jpgs and mp3s similarly consigned, has become like Indiana Jones’s lost ark: buried in an infinite warehouse of infinite treasures, never to be seen or heard from again.
And concludes with a touching realization:
I’ve determined that the way I can best incorporate a digital artifact into my continued existence, for lack of a physical analog, is to share it. (which is what I’m doing now). This is how I will hoard it: I will give it out, then field the reactions. The sharing is the mnemonic- the preserving agent.
It’s harder to incorporate a digital artifact into our lives. We don’t mark up the pages, dog-ear the corners, let the pages get bent and dirtied—we can’t make it our own. But perhaps, the one thing we can do to inject ourselves into this digital artifacts is to share it, to make sure the text lives with us, but also lives on past us.