Books have been among us for a long time. For a really long time books have probably been the most discernible medium through which exposure, knowledge, recreation, imagination and perhaps more happened. Language and script instantaneously gratified our inherent urge to record, share and propound. ‘The written word’ did not always exist in the form of books though. In the fifteenth century we left the manuscript for the printed book. Where we stand today in the twenty-first century is also fairly historic. We keep thinking if it’s the time for another great transition. Is it now time to leave behind the printed book and experience everything in the virtual? Will the printed book soon become history?
The World Book Day is a great occasion to celebrate books and the sheer pleasure of reading. Books occupy a big share in our memories, and memories of books are always happy and sentimental (as long as they don’t remind us of maths and grammar).When it’s books, we invariably talk a lot. Books have brought people closer, built friendships and gave joy. Yes, we have had instances when people reacted to books with extreme intolerance, hatred and more reprehensible tendencies. Nevertheless, sabotaging books with the aim of throttling ideas haven’t really led to tangible success. Books have survived malice. Doesn’t that mean that they will remain at least until sanity prevails?
Many of us have a deep association with books. Even then, is it somewhere true that we are reading less? And why so? The Internet is obviously the most overwhelming exposure of our times. It has transported us to another realm where we still stand dazed. A lot has changed, sometimes imperceptibly, in our lives. Our visits to the library are no longer frequent, we rarely search our bookshelves to pick up the next book from our reading list and our collection barely increases. We buy fewer books because books these days seem pretty expensive and the reason is not always inflation. The value of books has somewhat fallen in our eyes. Books have ceased to be those precious items one feels proud to own. Currently, there are numerous things awaiting our engagement. Some of these even substantially contribute to knowledge. They compete with books for our time and attention. We are naturally more driven towards the new ones – firstly, because they are new and secondly, they often require less effort to focus and concentrate vis-à-vis books. Above all, we don’t have space to keep books – another reason for not buying books. This millennium, however, offered something no less than revolutionary. It gave us the e-book and in fact we can store almost a thousand of them in our sleek Kindle or Kobo. They cost less too. Physical books seemed to have no hope.
But too soon it became obvious that despite its greatness, the e-book isn’t as revolutionary as Gutenberg’s fifteenth-century printing press. The virtual format deprives us of the tactile pleasures. We miss the smell of books. Our e-reader or tablet fails to replicate the experience we instinctively associate with reading. It only intensifies the feeling that ‘The most technologically efficient machine that man has ever invented is the book’ and not the e-book. It has also been felt by some readers that e-books restrict our imagination leading to some degree of detachment. Thus reading The Name of the Rose on the Kindle app doesn’t help. Our vision of the fourteenth-century milieu remains too blurry to leave an impression.
There is nothing sinister about e-books. Their convenience is rather undeniable. And long as we continue buying books – electronic or physical – it’s auspicious! It’s just that the virtual experience makes books feel a bit less special.
Celebrating books is always grand and this 21st World Book Day is even more important. It sees us at a juncture when the worth of books is being rediscovered. Readers are buying books again. And we as publishers are all the more enthusiastic and ambitious to cater to a large and diverse readership. Reading is being revived – the virtual only supplementing the real!
Sunanda Chatterjee, Editor