Books and Not Books

     I spend about $2,000 a year on books. I don’t plan to spend any money, ever, on an Amazon Spindle, or a Sony Bleater, or any other goddamn electronic machine, no matter how cheaply they can send me text messages from dead authors.
     I won’t do it for the same reason I won’t spend any more money, or read, any more post-constructivist, post-modern, post-human criticism by Jean Baudrillard or Jacques Derrida or Michael Foucault or Julia Kristeva or any other constipated so-called writer or any of their pathetic, semiliterate imitators.
     Because they’re ugly, that’s why: the machines and the writers.
     I didn’t fall in love with “texts” when I was a little boy.
     I fell in love with books.
     One of the many stupid things Bill Gates did in his fortunate and oh so lucky life was to write an essay in which he crowed about the end of books – as though that would be a good thing.
     Mr. Gates wrote that good-enough computer programs – like so many of the just barely but not really good-enough, ugly and stupidly designed programs his company sells – could, and would, replace books someday.
     Bill Gates is wrong.
     I don’t care how much money Bill Gates has. Bill Gates is a moron.
     An “e-text” is not a book. It might have all the same words in it, including the title page, and endnotes, and a reproduction of the book’s cover, and even the page with the ISBN numbers and dire warnings that nobody understands.
     But an e-text is not a book.
     Books have typefaces, and the typefaces vary from book to book.
     Books are not all printed in 9-point f.ing Verdana.
     Books have a beauty that can be compared only to the beauty of other books.
     Books smell of ink, or of dust – they smell like a book.
     Books have weight in your hand, and bulk, and texture. Their pages have texture, which is different from the texture of the binding, which is different from the texture of the dust jacket.
     Books have pages, and the texture and look and smell of the pages change over time.
     A new book has clean print and sharp edges that can cut your finger.
     The edges of the pages of an old book won’t cut you. They’re soft. Sometimes they have been cut by the first person who read the book; sometimes they show you how far that person got in the book before he stopped reading, or lost it, or loaned it out, or died.
     All of those things – the print, the smell, the weight in your hand, the texture, the pages, the colors of the dust jacket – change over time.
     I am holding in my hand a book called “Harrison’s Description of England in Shakspere’s Youth – Being the Second and Third Books of his Description of Britaine and England – Edited from the First Two Editions of Holinshed’s Chronicle, A.D. 1577, 1587, by Frederick J. Furnivall … Publisht for The New Shakespere Society by N. Trqbner & Co., 57, 59, Ludgate Hill, London, E.C., 1877.”
     I paid $65 for it, and was glad to do it.
     The guy who owns the used bookstore who was smart enough to buy it, and have it take up shelf space for God knows how long until I came along and bought it, gave me a 20 percent discount.
     Bob Willig is his name – a great guy, with a great used bookstore.
     “Harrison’s Description of England” has been out of print for more than a century. Sooner or later, if it has not done so already, Google will scan the book into a computer and sell it online, possibly for as little as 99 cents.
     That’s good. Perhaps someday someone else like me, but who could not afford the $65, will buy it, and read it, and write a wonderful book about Shakespeare, as I hope to do.
     But the 99-cent download of “Harrison’s Description of England” is not “Harrison’s Description of England.”
     I don’t care if the “text” is identical.
     It ain’t the same thing.
     What I wanted, what I am reading, aside from the information about Shakespeare’s England, is the book.
     It is by no means a beautiful book, but it’s a wonderful book, with foldout maps and curious footnotes, in a different font from the main text, and with marginalia in italics, describing what’s going on in the text.
     It’s one of the primary sources for information about Shakespeare’s England.
     An electronic version of this book, if it sold for 99 cents, would be worth 99 cents.
     The book – the actual literary creation that I have in my hand – has a value that cannot be measured.

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