“When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story's voice makes everything its own” - John Berger
It was during a recent trip to New York City, one of the epicenters of the literary world, that I found the sentiment for the hand-held book alive and well. There was a certain dichotomy between the trappings of the modern, technologically advanced city rushing by on Madison Avenue and the serene, sacred atmosphere in the metaphoric cathedral of prized antique volumes in Bauman Rare Books (http://www.baumanrarebooks.com/). It seemed as though the glass doors were a portal between two different eras.
This separation, co-existing with the all-encompassing oneness of the city seemed fitting as only the night before, we were ensconced in the Roaring Twenties of Fitzgerald at a chic Tribeca venue. Sipping champagne in period dress, the music and costumes of our fellow party-goers spoke to the vibe of the Jazz age, yet the ambitious conversations and ability to make fast friends of strangers was signature, modern day NYC. Just for the night, before the clock struck two, everyone seemed to share the same dreams. There was the set of voracious readers, writers and artists united by tired feet and limited seating. We were a group of disparate, creative individuals brought together for an evening.
One woman spoke of her passionate quest to get her young students to develop a love for the written word; not only to instill a love of books, but also to inspire them towards the self-expression that would give them a voice in years to come. We discussed our own literature-oriented upbringings, the importance of the generations we hoped to shape and reach, the virtues and distractions of technology as well as indulging in a few private laughs about aspects of pop culture we’ll neglect to name here. There was the disillusioned young writer who had worked for one of the greater literary powers that be and discovered that they themselves didn’t even like to read. There was a couple dynamically fond of taking the ‘road less traveled’ and building their artistic pursuits from scratch and a couple who’d met only that very night; yet this latter pair seemed as though, in their familiar, heads-close-together conversations of secret aspirations (for her design, for him the silver screen) and their nearly choreographed dancing, that they’d known each other for years. Just as in The Great Gatsby, there existed amongst us a reach for the illusive green light, a desire to find one’s place, a time of possibility... all within the context of a good old-fashioned, carefree party staged in a place of extremes.
Holding a hunter green first edition of The Great Gatsby the next morning, the spell the night cast was complete. Times change, but people don’t. We still dream, we still reach. It was part of this that reaffirmed my belief that the hand-held book will always have a place in our society. Right there, in the middle of bustling NYC, is a place of the here and now where the book is honored and valued to an elevated spot of esteem. Yes, digital books are opening doors and creating wonderful possibilities for both writers and literacy, yet our roots and history are timeless. We hold a piece, an extension of ourselves when we hold a book that was written by someone who deeply, emphatically understood what it is to be human. It was during an interview for a freelance article that I mentioned this subject to an educational director. Though they expounded on the reasons why access to thousands of books on a single device was a wonderful development, they also felt that there was a longevity to the hand-held book that would remain. They jokingly compared it to the difference between having and holding a teddy bear and keeping a digital picture of one.
Scanning the rows of books at Bauman, peering into the glass cases to see first editions or signed copies of A Christmas Carol, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Babar and a letter from Benjamin Franklin, I felt as though I was part of something very important. The importance of words, the love of reading, writing and storytelling (in whatever artistic form), is something that unites us. As I watched the gentleman washing the glass doors of the store from the inside, I felt that my inner vision was clarified and there was now a clearer view of the balance between the advancements of the fast-paced modern world and literary tradition.