Thursday, July 10, 2014

July 10 2014: In praise of book-browsing

“I took my time, running my fingers along the spines of books, stopping to pull a title from the shelf and inspect it. A sense of well-being flowed through me as I circled the ground floor. It was better than meditation or a new pair of shoes- or even chocolate. My life was a disaster, but there were still books. Lots and lots of books. A refuge. A solace. Each one offering the possibility of a new beginning.”

Beth Pattillo, Jane Austen Ruined My Life

I’ll be sad indeed if real printed books vanish. Right now, they are holding on remarkably well given the initial phenomenal growth of e-books, but I have a feeling we are going to have a new range of e-books and tablets within the next couple of years which will be:

  • Lighter
  • Cheaper
  • Be easier to read under differing lighting conditions
  • Have improved audio
  • Will offer features we haven’t even thought of just yet

In short, I don’t think the e-book evolution has plateaued permanently. I think this is more akin to a consolidation period prior to a series of further onslaughts.

Amazon, as they say, never sleeps. Well, nor does Apple or technology as a whole.

What worries me about real books vanishing is the thought that real book-stores will vanish as well. In that situation, how will you book-browse? I have tried browsing on the internet, but it truly is not the same experience. It’s not tactile. There is no book smell.

Walking apart, book-browsing is one of the best ways I know of coming up with a fresh idea, clearing your mind, or otherwise stimulating your brain.

I don’t necessarily buy what I find—or I would quickly run out of floor space (I speak from experience) not to mention money—but I treasure being able to dip into the distilled output of brain after brain, and to be constantly surprised. Also browsing has a tendency to surface fascinating facts—the kind that fill in the space between two thoughts you have had already (and, with luck, will either confirm or connect them)..

The other day, I ran across a new account of the 1967 Israeli war—which was militarily extraordinarily successful—but arguably gave rise to the political logjam which is such a feature of that part of the world today.

In the book, there was an account of Orde Wingate, the British Army officer, who had such a formative effect on the Israeli Defense Forces. As it happens, a great uncle of mine took over his Burma unit, the Chindits, after Wingate himself was killed—and I was at school with his son. But primarily I have long been drawn to Wingate because he had such an original military mind. He just thought, and fought, differently

The account told me a great deal I knew already—including the fact that he ate onions like apples—but also confirmed a thought that I have been working on for years.

What is it? Wait for my book.

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