You can’t do this with your e-reader!

As promised, I’m continuing this week’s discussion about paper and my love of it, especially when it’s bound together with other paper to form a book. A friend posted an intriguing link to Facebook earlier this week, showing some of the artwork of Brian Dettmer, a book “surgeon.” And I was instantly entranced!

“Webster Two Point Oh” by Brian Dettmer

Eugene’s Blog beautifully highlights these works, and another blogger followed up yesterday with an interview with the surgeon/artist himself – showcasing more of his work. Dettmer takes books (and other media) and carves them into intricate sculptures. You can see a gallery of images at Dettmer’s site, his flickr pages, or the blogs. It’s definitely worth taking time to browse through them.

Looking through his artwork reminded me of a discussion I first had several years ago in a class in grad school (a debate played out over and over in the media). E-readers were a newly-emerging technology at the time, and our professor wanted to know whether we thought printed books would die out because of the new readers. I’m an unapologetic bibliophile, and so the thought of books all converting to electronic form made me panicky then, and still causes a little flutter of concern in me today. 

The sense and scents of paper
I love the smell of books. There are some from my parents’ attic that I open to a rich aromatic mixture of the attic’s wooden shelves and all of the other treasures stored away through the years in there. I have a set of leather-bound books that look and feel and smell lovely, and the weight of them in my hands as I read them is reassuring to me.

I’ve even been known to buy books simply for the weight or cut of the paper in the book. That’s how I stumbled on a paperback version of Umberto Eco’s Island of the Day Before. I had heard of Umberto Eco, but what made me buy the book was its deckled edge. It’s true! I’m pretty sure I stuck with reading it through some amazingly difficult parts that made me feel intellectually … well, stunted … simply because I couldn’t bear to put down such a lovely-to-hold book.

Yes, I’m a page turner. Even in writing and editing work, I prefer a pen and spiral-bound notebook or paper printouts to a keyboard and screen. One of my college professors spoke of the visceral connection of pen on paper, an image that has always stayed with me, probably because I understood it so well then and still do now.

So count me in the old-school camp in favor of printed books. I can read them on the plane through take-off and landing, free from a flight attendant’s scolding. I can take a magazine out to the beach and not worry about what the combination of sunscreen, salt and sand will do to it. I can jot notes in the margins or put a little sticky tab on a page I want to revisit. Not sure I’ll ever take a scalpel to a book, but, thanks to Dettmer’s art, I can see how that outcome is far more beautiful than a knife to a Kindle would be.

Let me know where you are on the print/electronic continuum (and please know that I understand the inherent irony of my stance, given where I’m sitting to write this, and where you’re reading it). I look forward to a long, healthy debate about the future of books and reading.

In memory
Today’s post is dedicated to the memory of a friend and wonderful neighbor, Martha, who lost her battle with cancer yesterday. She was a warm, welcoming person who loved life, reading and writing. In the short time I knew her, she encouraged me with my writing in so many ways, and I am forever grateful for having known her.

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