Friday, December 2, 2011

What's with the background photo?

I know it's a bit indistinct but it's a very special picture.  My lovely--and quite talented--daughter, Mattie, took it on her trip in 2010 to Berlin.  The subject is an unusual monument to literature: a subterranean sculpture (visible through a Plexiglas cover) of empty bookshelves, large enough to hold the 20,000 tomes that were burned during the Nazi occupation on May 10, 1933.  Designed by Micha Ullman, an Israeli sculptor and professor of art, it sits below the Bebelplatz, a public square infamously known as the site of the Nazi book burning. A bronze plaque on the sculpture bears a quote by Heinrich Heine: “Where books are burned in the end people will burn.”

It seems serendipitous that we should have chosen this photo for my blog which launched the same week that it was announced that Ray Bradbury had consented to allowing his 1953 classic, Fahrenheit 451 to be published in e-book format.  Carolyn Kellogg of the LA Times wrote of the release: The irony of releasing an e-book edition of a novel built around the death of print books was not lost on Bradbury, which is why he resisted the e-book idea. The Associated Press reports that the author was dismissive of the form, saying that e-books "smell like burned fuel." Bradbury, a noted futurist who at one time was a consultant for NASA, told the New York Times in 2009 that the Internet is "meaningless; it's not real.... It's in the air somewhere."

I must admit that I, like Mr. Bradbury, was resistant to the idea of an electronic book.  I like real books, paper and ink and cardboard and glue. Books crackle when you first open a new one.  The pages rustle.  They show wear--"dogears" and spilled coffee and underlining and notes in the margins, the patina of books.  Like The Velveteen Rabbit the more wear they show the more real they become. I know they are not necessarily eco-friendly, requiring precious wood and usually toxic inks and glues for their assembly.  But they are real.  And real is seems to be slowly fading from the vernacular the more technological we become.

If I ever get a book "published" I want it to be real.  I want to be able to hand it to someone as a gift, to set it on a shelf.  Imagine the Bebelplatz in 1933 if books had been in digital form...


  1. Anna, I have had that thought too about 'actual' vs. 'virtual' books. I saw the pics of the library OWS set up, and imagine myself offering my hundreds and hundreds of dusty books to my neighbors in some postapocalyptic future...

  2. I agree. I like real books too much to get a kindle.