Friday, August 24, 2018

An Homage To The Book

I just finished reading The Book: An Homage, by Burkhard Spimnen.  It’s a wonderful tribute to bibliophiles and all things books.  In a series of essays he covers lots of fertile ground that appeals to book-lovers, including topics such as the gifted book, the damaged book, the old book, the dictionary, bookmobiles, the burned book and the stolen book.

Living in the culture of the book, most of us would readily admit that books are our companions and advisors.  We couldn’t live without books, feeling abandoned and lost. With books being so important to us, how could we ever settle on digital readers to placate our purist ways?  We need to see, touch, smell, and experience books.

As he waxes on about the new book, the annotated book, the cheap book, the discovered book, and the autographed book, he also tackles some other topics with touching words that reflect his heartfelt passion for the printed word.

He talks about how books can be collected and stockpiled, how they become a status symbol, and how they can serve as art or decoration. But he also spoke of the value books provide to us in their packaged contents, how a bond with one’s books runs deep.  Just to hear him discuss the beauty and appeal of books and how they provide to us something special in their packaged contents, how you feel a bond with one’s books runs deep.  This book makes you want to romance a bookstore, a library, and an antiquarian shop.

Below are select excerpts from The Book:

New Books
Thus a new book is also a promise.  It gives to its owner the sense that he’s been granted a privilege.  No matter how ancient the text, or how many times it has been reprinted, a new book presents itself in a state of virginity.  If anything, it makes us feel that the whole previous history of its reading has been annulled, that we can begin again from scratch.  As if even today we could open a copy of Shakespeare, Goethe, Zola, Joyce, etc., and return to the moment just after the author has laid down the quill or stepped away from the typewriter.

The Old Book
Plenty of people prefer old books to new as a matter of principle.  Maybe because their age better conveys the value of the text; maybe because they favor the rare above the commonplace, above the welter of consumer goods.  Or because they like to surround themselves with objects that seem to preserve a secret.  Such people ensure that our society reserves a sanctuary for old books.

The Right Book
The physicality of books leads to problems of transportation and furnishing that one is hard-put to solve.  Beyond that, the book as a physical object stands as a symbol for the somber fact that we can read only a circumscribed number of books.  Our lives, like our bookshelves, have a limited capacity. 

In other words:  there’s a certain correspondence between the amount of reading we can perform in a lifetime and the book-capacity of our living spaces.  Apparently about as many texts enter our heads as books can fit into the average apartment, provided one makes space in said apartment for a library.  Every new book we acquire takes up in our reading lives roughly the same amount of space as it does on our bookshelves.

Which is why one should always take care to select the right book.

The Wrong Book
Often enough, the wrong book simply can’t help it.  Perhaps it was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Or we followed a bad recommendation, or didn’t understand the recommendation correctly, or wrote it down incorrectly.  In any case:  the wrong book is an irritation, one that you’d gladly get rid of.  Yet as a physical object, it asserts its presence; it isn’t so simple to remove this mistake from your world.

And even if it turns out to have been a genuine wrong book, then at least you’ve read a book you might have otherwise overlooked.  And this experience might possibly be more rewarding than having read the umpteenth book that suits your taste.

The Signed Book
Sure, a signed book is, to begin with, an acknowledged collector’s item; one can buy it from antique dealers along with similar things like postage-stamps, lithographic postcards of cities, or little elephants and lions made of silver.  As the fame of the signed book, and people can speculate on this possibility with great success.  If you can get it signed by the author after a reading, you’ve acquired it for no more than the retail price, and with a pleasant memory to boot.

The Printed Word
Up until the advent of printed books some five hundred years ago, books were written by hand.  Every one of them was an original; unique and recognizable.  Since Gutenberg, however, books have been widely distributed years ago, books were written by hand.  Every one of them was an original; unique and recognizable.  Since Gutenberg, however, books have been widely distributed in vast, identical editions.  Perhaps one could say that there persists a sharp longing for that lost unity of text and handwriting.  Is that possible?  After all, the first printed letters imitated the handwriting of medieval scribes in order to improve the new medium’s acceptance among readers.  And maybe, five hundred years later, we still haven’t quite gotten over the fact that, through the printing and mass replication of books, the text has been distanced from its author and, thereby, shed its aura of individuality.  The manuscripts of important texts are housed in archives and museums and exhibited like relics; literary scholars continually pore over them in the hope of uncovering something about them lost in their transition to print.

The Loaned Book
Many loaned books spend weeks, months, even years, in the limbo of still-not.  Still not read but soon.  Still not returned, damn it, but not long now.  I promise.  In the worst cases, the loaned book becomes completely unreadable for the borrower.  What’s more, he prefers to remove the thing from his sight, lest it remind him of his predicament.  Possibly it will be packed in a moving box and leave the city, the country, the continent; and finally, whether in the worst kind of bad circumstances, or out of sheer forgetfulness, the borrower will wind up counting it among his own possessions.  Still later, the book will have outlived both lender and borrower.  But only when it finds itself purchased again, most likely for a few cents at a flea market, will its stain its stigma, be obliterated.  Now, at last, it can be read again.

Until someone borrows it.

The Stolen Book
Back at the beginning of my college years, stealing books from the bookstore was considered a kind of rite of passage for individuals of independent mind.  In certain circles, texts were seen as public property.  The fact that they existed in the actual, everyday world, for the most part, as commodities and private possessions – that is, as books – was considered a strategy of domination on the apart of the capitalist system, one that ought to be met whenever possible by acts of insubordination, even vandalism.

Banned Books
Thus trials over banning books are inevitably distressing.  They turn into an airing of dirty laundry, experts tweezing paragraphs from texts, jurists agonizing over philosophical dilemmas.  All the same, we have to live with such trials – we should even be grateful for them.  Because in them arise concrete examples of what will increasingly determine the everyday life and future of our democracies: the conflict, never wholly resolved, between the necessities of security and the privilege of freedom.

The Dictionary
Dictionaries are, in any case, books that aim to fix the world and hold it fast.  Inasmuch as they clamp it between boards, they underscore the finitude of their subject.  Dictionaries are an object of comfort, even when their volumes fill whole walls of shelves and you know you’ll never be able to read them all.  For dictionaries seem to say:  “Don’t worry.  The world may be complex, but it’s never the less containable.  It may be huge, but look: it fits in a single room.”

The Antiquarian
One type of shopper, however, is found only at the antiquarian shop:  the manic treasure-hunter.  He carries around with him a long hit-list of fantasy finds, and wanders the world of paper in his quest to make them real.  The notion that on these very shelves some long-sought book is waiting for him (and for him alone) intoxicates and electrifies him.

The Bookstore
Bookstores may resemble libraries, but they’re nothing of the kind.  They’re more like way-stations, short-term harbors for books on the journeys to the reader or toward still other shelves.  Here, too, the books are perfectly ordered – but with a kind of train station or airport order, which above all else (or, rather, only) serves the goal of expediting transfer.  In the bookstore, no book is allowed to grow old; instead, everything drives on toward change.  Depending on the season, holiday, media hype, or bestseller-lists, the piles of books can be swapped with lightning speed, shelves emptied and newly filled again.

For that, the simplest possible bookshelf is always the advisable lifesaver.  It’s perhaps the only type of furnishing that doesn’t fall prey to great aesthetic, ethical, or moral qualms, or questions.  It radiates a peculiar kind of warmth, perhaps even that of its owner, and exudes a sense of simultaneous privacy and openness, of character and function, that constitutes every living human being.  What other pierce of furniture can do all that?  I can’t think of a single one.


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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America and participated in a PR panel at the Sarah Lawrence College Writers Institute Conference.

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