Books: Lightweight Electronics, Heavyweight Paper


In praise of Glamorous Finches and Exotic Libraries

If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book. J.K. Rowling

A great gift from the technology age is the library in your pocket, or backpack, depending on your preference. Books of all kinds are now languishing by the zillion in our electronic libraries on literary ‘clouds’ in the aether. And who can deny… books on a tablet or iPad are wonderful if one lives in a limited space — a virtual library can be as small or massive as you like, or can afford.

The electronic book has changed our reading habits so much. If one commutes, or likes to settle down in a dark place without disturbing one’s partner, the electronic book has much to offer, as opposed to turning on the light and shuffling around in the gloom looking for a misplaced book-mark. The sheer quantity of electronic books in my electronic library also comes as a real relief to the book-shelves in our house. But most importantly these books in the cloud point to a fundamentally different way of reading and book ownership. 

When I started to own electronic books, I discovered that important factual volumes needed for research had to be in paper form, because of re-reading, book marking and sharing. This discovery was learned by making mistakes and having to get the same book twice. But then things changed, I started to read only certain kinds of books electronically. Novels, fantasy, stories and ‘page-turners’ were required and acquired electronically. Finally, I came to know when I only needed a real book that involved paper, pictures, references and text… and so, me and a million others changed our reading habits.

The important books that we appreciate have become special, like the illuminated hand-painted tomes of old. Weighing in like the heavyweights that they are, coffee table books have gone out of the window, the big books are the serious ones, for serious people with serious passions. And here are two very different examples I found in our house.

If you key “Exotic Twitchers” into Google you can have real fun, discovering the difference between a real bird-watcher and a twitcher – the twitcher being a person that sets out to record some exotic bird life that got lost in Brexitland en-route to somewhere sunny.  Lost and bewildered the foreign bird ends up on our sad little island, being scrutinised by a host of anoraked twitchers. But real bird watchers look at books like ‘Estrildid Finches of the World’ and travel to distant lands to discover more about this branch of truly exotic finch. ‘Estrildid Finches of the World’ is a vast astonishing self-published volume encompassing nine years of work, over a thousand colour photographs, a nearly 400 pages of descriptive text including 146 maps and many magnificent birdy illustrations. The volume includes examinations of markings and descriptions of hatchlings, as well. It’s a dedicated study of Estrildidae, a finch family of 34 genera and 145 species – beautiful birds that can be found in 40 countries around the world. The book, which understandably earned praise from David Attenborough, costs 69.95 Euros and is available from the author – G.J.Huisman  – and take my word for it, I am not a serious bird watcher, but for somebody who loves their exotic finches, this has to be the book, it’s impressive… 

Another volume that reminded me of the way books and their importance have changed during our lifetimes is the seductive Thames & Hudson volume The Library – A World History by James W.P. Campbell and Will Pryce. This is another physically massive tome featuring photographs of libraries across the world. It includes sumptuous pictures of collections of books and manuscripts including detailed views of weird volumes on strange shelves, from Europe to Asia and the Americas. It probably took every bit as long to compile as ‘Estrildid Finches’. I can look at this history of libraries for the rest of my life, and enjoy its fascinating text too, before arriving at the final chapter entitled ‘The Future of Libraries in the Electronic Age.’ Even this last bit of the book is interesting, but nowhere near as visually thrilling as the adventures one might have wandering through the grand bookshelves of The National Library of Finland, or the sensational Wiblington Abbey Library in Wiblington, Germany. They are so glamorous.

As Charles Baudelaire said: “A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company, a counsellor, a multitude of counsellors.”

As T.S. Eliot said: “The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man.” 

And let’s not forget dear old Albert Einstein, who pointed out that: “The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.” How true.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “Books: Lightweight Electronics, Heavyweight Paper”