Why Books?


We are all familiar with the anatomy of the book: pages, binding, etc. Bookish individuals tend to hoard them in our purses, sleep with them under our pillows and caress them when we’re feeling lonelier than usual. I get so much satisfaction in watching these physical objects piling up in my shelves. Yet I’m vaguely aware that a book is more than all of this. If they were only pretty blocks of paper, few people would covet them as they are. So what really are they? And why, in this age of technology, are they so important?

Most agree that the vital part of books are the words. We don’t typically drool over the paper quality (although I must admit to loving fantastic cover art). It’s what and how the author communicates—the product of his or her mind—that enamors us so much. Literature is the offspring of human thinking, an inanimate manifestation of our race. We continue to produce books because we have grown to trust this medium to give an accurate portrayal of our civilization. Think about how much we know about Mesopotamia based on the Epic of Gilgamesh. Because of this epic poem, we understand the widespread fear and reverence for the Gods and the cultural value of love and death.

Not only does a book capture the essence of a culture, but the author allows it to represent  themselves and their opinions. They trust the book to speak for them to generations to come.

But why should we be spending time decoding the intentions of authors when we could be coding computer programs? a task which seems much more prevalent in our era. What is the effect of the product of an author’s mind? Italo Calvino explores the complex relationship between the reader, the writer and the text in one of my favorite novels, “If on a winter’s night a traveler.” In the book he states:

“Reading is going toward something that is about to be, and no one yet knows what it will be.”

In other words, unlike when we solve math equations, we don’t always know exactly why we read, yet when some unknown moment of history repeats itself, it is the books we read that have prepared us. Humans have a strong sense of empathy, and books widen the spheres of situations and feeling with which we can empathize. I personally don’t know what it’s like to grow up on a plantation or ride in an intergalactic spaceship, but my reading has given me an idea of these sensations. If I were to meet someone who had experienced such things, I would have a base of communication with them. Or if I were placed in a similar situation, I may already have a guideline of how to act. Through reading, we become more self-aware and more aware of the community around us.

Books are more than just physical objects. We usually don’t own them for the sake of taking up space. We allow these books to represent humanity, to represent ourselves. They are impactful, and, despite the ever-changing nature of the generations, they have and will remain vitally important to the way we live our lives.


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