I hold it in my hand, a connection between what was and what is.
An old book I received from my mother at Christmas, a priceless gift of what was. Aged and somewhat worse for wear. Yellowed pages, but still in remarkable condition.
I read it last night. A children’s book titled Billy, by Irene Elliot Benson. Published in 1912, it was also a Christmas gift, to my grandfather by his sister in 1916. Inside the cover, written in a beautiful cursive: “To Raymond from Loretta, Xmas 1916.”
The story is not remarkable, a fictional tale of an orphan who is adopted by a well-to-do lady. A romantic “happily ever after” written in the style of Charles Dickens.
I am struck by the language. There are words that I don’t know, have never seen. I wonder if even children a century ago had a greater command of the language than adults today, the age in which the young (or even the middle-aged) communicate in one or two electronic sentences, many of which aren’t even complete thoughts. Lines filled with what I call “glyphs.” Little smiley faces. Hearts. Thumbs-up. The era of LOL and BFF.
I like paper books because they are solid, something that I can hold in my hand. Something that someone else held in their hand 103 years ago.
An hour later I pick up what is, my Kindle. I read a novel by Kurt Vonnegut, knowing full well that I am a hypocrite, a slave to immediate gratification. Want to read William Faulkner? A click and a charge to a credit card and one minute later you are at the title page (but who am I kidding, no one wants to read “The Sound and the Fury” unless they are taking American Lit. at the University, and even then they don’t want to read it).
This morning I look at the considerable number of books on my bookshelves. I look at images of books on a small screen.
Some (maybe most) will say that I am old-fashioned, but I cannot shake the feeling that the first will long-survive the latter. Scissors cut paper. Paper covers Cloud.
I look at what I write here, and know that one day it will simply vanish.
I will finish Mr. Vonnegut, but I am resolved to return to paper. I have more room on my shelves. If I run out, I can always build more.
One day my grandchild will hold a yellowed book. Just inside the cover will be a few lines, “To Ray from Mom, Christmas 1968.”
I hope that will mean as much to her as Billy means to me.