by Jerry Stern
I have just come from an exhibition that told me that
books will be replaced by electronic libraries,
talking videos, inter-active computers, cd-roms
with thousands of volumes, gigabytes of memory
dancing on pixillated screens at which we will blearily stare into eternity.
And so, in the face of the future, I must sing the song of
the book, nothing more voluptuous do I know that
sitting with bright pictures, fat upon my lap, and
turning glossy pages of giraffes and Gauguins,
penguins, and pyramids. I love wide atlases
delineating the rise and fall of empires, the trade
routes from Kashgar to Samarkand.
I love heavy dictionaries, their tiny pictures,
complicated columns, minute definitions of
incarnative and laniary, hagboat and fopdoodle.
I love the texture of pages, the high gloss slickness of
magazines as slippery as oiled eels, the soft nubble
of old books, delicate India paper, so thin my
hands tremble trying to turn the fluttering dry
leaves, and the yellow cheap, coarse paper of
mystery novels so gripping that I don't care that
the plane circles Atlanta forever, because it is a full
moon and I am stalking in the Arizona desert a
malevolent shape shifter.
I love the feel of ink on the paper, the shiny varnishes,
the silky lacquers, the satiny mattes.
I love the press of letters in thick paper, the roughness
sizzles my fingers with centuries of craft embedded
in pulped old rags, my hands caress the leather of
old bindings crumbling like ancient gentlemen.
The books I hold for their heft, to riff their pages, to
smell the smoky dustiness, the rise of time in
I love bookstores, a perfect madness of opportunity,
a lavish feast eaten by walking up aisles, and as
fast as my hand reaches out, I reveal books'
intimate innards, a doleful engraving of
Charlotte Corday who murdered Marat, a
drawing of the 1914 T-head Stutz Bearcat whose
owners shouted at rivals, "There never was a car
worser than the Mercer."
I sing these pleasures of white paper and black in,
of the small jab of the hard cover corner at the
edge of my diaphragm, of the look of type, of the
flip of a page, the sinful abandon of the turned
down corner, the reckless possessiveness of my
marginal scrawl, the cover picture -- as much a
part of the book as the contents itself, like
Holden Caulfield his red cap turned backwards,
staring away from us, at what we all thought we
And I also love those great fat Bibles evangelists wave
like otter pelts, the long graying sets of unreadable
authors, the tall books of babyhood enthusiastically
crayoned, the embossed covers of adolescence,
the tiny poetry anthologies you could slip in your
pocket, and the yellowing cookbooks of recipes
for glace blanche dupont and Argentine mocha
toast, their stains and spots souvenirs of long
evenings full of love and argument, and the talk,
like as not, of books, books, books.