How much ink has been spilled talking about the book’s demise in the digital age? Oceans of it, I’m sure. And yet there’s still more to be said — none of it more hopeful and heartening than an essay called “It’s Alive!” in The NY Times Book Review by Gillian Silverman, the author of Bodies and Books: Reading and the Fantasy of Communion in 19th Century America.
In her fascinating exploration of the evolution of the idea of the book as a living, breathing entity and a form of communion among minds that transcends time and space, Gillian offers some wonderful musings about the nature of words, books, and reading.
Emily Dickinson, for example, once wrote an editor asking if her writing was “alive” and if it “breathed.”
Books are “living friends,” wrote Bronson Alcott (Louisa May’s father), and observed, “The more life embodied in the book, the more companionable.” Bronson and other thinkers of his era saw the book as “a container for consciousness,” notes Gillian, and “a way to access the innermost part of another human being, otherwise unreachable.”
Henry David Thoreau believed books were spiritually “alive”: The book “is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only read but actually breathed from all human lips — not represented on canvas or in marble only, but carved out of the breath of life itself.”
Joseph Conrad saw books as vessels of humanity: “Of all the inanimate objects, of all man’s creations, books are the very nearest to us, for they contain our very thought, our ambitions, our indignations, our illusions.”
Sure, we have the Nook and the Kindle and the iPhone — and words stream to us via these devices. But the book, with its spine, its footnotes, and its treasures hidden inside a cover still offers us the most full-bodied vessel for capturing and communicating thoughts, hopes, and dreams. I for one, am glad to know that the book is “as lively as ever.” How about you? Write on!