Growing up in the late fifties and early sixties, television was not the time consuming activity it is today. Even in New Jersey (western Jersey, y’all!) any household was fortunate to receive one channel clearly, let alone the hundreds of choices available today. As a preschooler, I had just settled into watching Howdy Doody and Roy Rogers when the television went down. My parents saw this as opportune. The television would never reappear in our household.
And so books reclaimed their position as the after-dinner activity of choice. Any evening would likely find all six of us, children and adults alike, sitting in the chairs and couches of the living room absorbed and silent, independently engaged in the drama we found between the covers of our own books, travelers in our own worlds, together yet distant.
Such a picture would be unimaginable today. Life’s pace has quickened and the choices are many. Boundaries have become blurred: education is entertainment, games are movies, music is wallpaper. The brain is engaged at the touch of a button. And the imagination disengaged.
A book fires the imagination. In a well written book, the author sets the scene with a stroke or two of description. The reader provides the rest. This is an intimate, private process. No one else is privy to the picture the reader has created, even though they read the same passage.
A single book can launch a thousand stories, because a reader is not tethered by someone else’s vision. A reader is free to follow the flights of fantasy launched by the author’s words. This makes books unique.
Some have worried about the demise of books. Such worries are baseless. The written word may change form, indeed it will change form as it has always done – from rock etchings to hieroglyphics on papyrus to quilled words on hide to printed words on paper to digitalized words on plastic. But the uniqueness of books will remain, for it is human to wish to dwell in a world of our own creation.
Yes, the book world is changing. But in a good way. Because it’s no longer a question of how many books I can afford; the question is, how many books can I read in a lifetime?