Sunday, December 20, 2009

Home Pages

I have always been at home in books and in those homes for books that we call libraries. I developed my love for books from a very early age, and cannot imagine life, or a world, without them. However, having been a child in the 1970s, I am among the last generation that remembers what life was like without ubiquitous personal computers and Internet access. I'm sure that many people younger than me cannot imagine life without these things, and that a significant number of them see books as being far less central to their experience than I do.

To me, a life without books, by which I mean traditional printed and bound paper volumes, is a life that is greatly impoverished. The reasons for this are varied and complex, and it is not something I could fully explain in a single blog post. Many people my age and older will understand this instinctively, and I am hopeful that many younger people continue to share this feeling as well, despite their (and our) increased dependence on digital technologies.

One reason I am hopeful that a love for books will survive my generation is the fact that I myself grew up on television as much as I did on books. Both media were equally old (and, for that matter, equally new) to me, since both had existed before I was born. Even though I loved to watch TV, my love for reading was at least equal in its intensity. Perhaps the children of the 21st century, at least those who are so encouraged by their parents, might still develop a love for printed books alongside their understandable fascination with electronic media. To me, a life without books, in any age, is as culturally deprived as a 21st century life completely devoid of the Internet, TV, movies, or recorded music.

Both at work and at home I am surrounded by books. There are more books in the world than any mortal can ever hope to read or even know about, a universe of knowledge and expression that was already far too vast for any single person to comprehend even before the Internet came along. The overwhelming majority of this knowledge is still not "online", and much of it perhaps never will be, despite Google's best intentions. But, like knowing a few precious souls in a world of billions, we can know a few of these books, and they can become friends that continue to enrich our experience throughout our lives. The books I have known have contributed to my own mind, have helped shape my intellect, imagination, emotions, and spirit, and helped make me who I am. I delight in reconnecting with old, long-lost books as much as discovering wonderful new ones. For each book is the voice of one or more of our fellow human beings, sharing something useful or something entertaining, something profound or something absurd, something funny or something sad, something strange or something familiar, something wonderful or beautiful or remarkable about the world we live in or about the things we can dream, and always something human.

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