The Use of Books | Collège universitaire dominicain

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The Use of Books

jeudi, 26 Février 2015

By Iva Apostolova


Old books on shelf

Today, more so than ever before, the question of the use of books seems to be not only relevant but almost pressing. Reading books is time consuming, it requires prolonged attention as well as an exercise of reflection. However, the incessant electronic media information overload, the fast-paced modern life style, the often unrealistic demands of multi-tasking all make books seem, well, obsolete.  

So, are books of any use to us today?

I daresay they have more use than you might think. Picture for a second a printed book, its shiny cover and glossy pages. Now open it and give it a good sniff. Nothing like the smell of ink on paper, is there?! And when you think about it, it really is cheaper getting hooked on books than other stuff... The sound of cracking the book spine when ‘breaking’ the book into reading, is among other things, very soothing. One of the greatest philosophers of all time, Benedict Spinoza, was rumored to have indulged every night in taking books out of his, considerable for his time, collection of well over a hundred volumes, and caressing their leather bindings. Once again, from a cost-efficiency point of view, that’s probably a better stress-relief alternative to the shrink’s couch.  

Printed books could also be used to prop or steady furniture around the house. I have a vivid image of my grandmother generously using Penguin pocket-books to level out the kitchen table whose one wobbly leg was often the cause for broken plates and spilled sauces.

One should also never underestimate the use of printed books as effective pedagogical tools. I still remember being tapped on the head with heavy hard-cover English language textbooks by my dad in expression of his utter frustration with my forgetfulness of the English irregular verbs table. I can assure you that the tapping did wonders for my memory, language skills, as well as my motivation to learn.

Books, printed or electronic, also have a proven soporific effect. If all else fails, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason should do the trick and induce immediate slumber!

And if, god forbid, you ever thought of getting into the book-business, here is what Bertrand Russell, when asked to speak at a luncheon organized by one of the big British printing and book-binding companies in 1951, had to say, “If I had to give advice to a young man who hoped for literary success, I should advise him to study the lives of those who have produced the best sellers…. As he may learn from the author of Mein Kampf, [one thing to do is] to obtain the command of the best army going. But even more effective than this is the lesson to be learned from Stalin’s career, which is to obtain command of the secret police, and imprison anybody who does not buy your book, the effect on circulation is most satisfactory. These are the roads to really great literary success.”   


Books in Wilson Room