The Message is the Most Important Thing – Not the Medium
I have been 'collecting books' ever since I can remember. Without thinking about it too much, books and living expenses both fall into the category of 'basic necessities' – everything else is nice to have. I have the same attitude when it comes to getting books for my kids. If like me, while wandering through a bookstore, they see a book that they would like to read, I don't really count it as a gift or a special purchase. If the book has found them, it apparently possesses some message that they need to hear. To my dismay, as I have mentioned in previous blogs, they are not avid readers like me. They generally prefer to curtail my wanderings before I enter the book shop. They know that for me a bookshop walkabout it is like entering into another dimension wherein I lose sense of time and space. So instead of choosing a book, they are more likely to be tugging on my sleeves, reminding me to pack up and leave.
For someone who has been collecting books for fourscore decades, you would think that I would have a household full of paper, but that is simply not the case. Almost 15 years ago we had a fire in our little apartment, and along with almost every item in our possession, probably thousands of of books were turned to a pile of soot and charcoal. It was truly a moment that the mind cannot comprehend. Even now, I occasionally recall random books that I had, and I wonder whether I will ever find them again. Sometimes I will remember the plot but not the title of the book. There is one book that I remember the author, but not the title or the plot. He (she?) called himself simply Flynn. But that is about all that I can remember, except that the book that Flynn wrote was one of my favourites.
So I still read a lot. I still collect books, but not so much physical, 'hand-held' ones. Like most people I have moved over to the digital world. So my children, who may have in other circumstances grown up in a book-lined home, with me wading through a pile of literature, now see me glued to the screen of my Kindle. Perhaps I have unintentionally contributed to their screen fixations. Is there a difference between ruining your eyes via an e-reader of sorts or via a smartphone? I mean, philosophically speaking?
After losing stories and fictional friends in the so called 'Fire of 2003', my book collection has never been the same. The collection is growing timidly and almost incidentally. Don't get me wrong – Ray Bradbury's 'Fahrenheit 451' was one of the books that had the most profound impact on me as a reader. Book burnings – real or fictional – is a scourge, a blight on the face of humanity and needs to be countered with at least two books found for every book lost. However, one does learn something from fires. They teach humility. They teach that there is a fundamental difference between buying a book and buying a toothbrush, assuming that you need to choose. They teach you to let go of the physical things to which one is bound, and remind you that the message is what's important. The message is universal, and not the medium.