Last summer, I went to my local library and picked up a copy of Jane Erye. It was navy blue, full cloth, published by Modern Library in 1951. The title and author were printed in faded gold leaf and the endpaper was patterned with handsome light grey, that famous insignia of the dancer flitting by with a torch in hand. I loved looking at that lithe figure, animated by the light of inspiration.
Every time I sat down to read it in my favorite chair, I smelled it first: dusty ink, that mineral acid and wood fragrance. And Jane would reappear, her sharp cuffs and imperious chin. I just don’t know if Jane Eyre would have been the same without the birchy, nutty heaviness of that excellent old library copy.
Everyone laughs at emojis. They are a frivolity, a collection of accents that soften and simplify our sentiments. I sometimes look at them and think: in a few years, this could be how we write. We have stopped teaching our kids cursive. We don’t even teach them to type. There is speculation that our children will voice command, tap and swipe their way through all their communication. Studies indicate that their brains won’t develop the same way, that writing with our hands and spelling things out expands the thoughts themselves, expands the brain’s ability to conceive.
As someone who writes for a living, I wonder if I should just get Dragon and teach myself how to “write” with speech, just getting the jump on where the whole thing is obviously headed. And as someone who worked in bookstores for a good part of my life, I cannot help but mourn the fading industry that saw each individual book as a crafted thing, a signifier of civilization, a torch.
There is tremendous waste in traditional publishing that trumps sentimentality. More pragmatic minds have pointed out the insanity of cutting down a producer of oxygen in order to grind it down and make a book out of it, and they would be right. The sands of storytelling are shifting. Putting a story on paper seems almost indulgent now. Quixotic.
Storytelling will always live as long as humans do; it’s how we make sense of the world and organize the chaos in a way that hopefully keeps us sane. But there is a sense too, that the medium is evaporating, becoming “paperless”. It is a story in and of itself, and not without its own little tragedy. I always sign my name with the tilde because I think of that gesture, the dancer, like language, in motion, already becoming something else.
#literature #selfpublishing #writing #printedbooks