Category Archives: the love of words

Thinking about books

Hello. I’ve not blogged in a long time, and I apologize. But I’ve been writing, coloring (no, not with adult coloring books; rather, I take photographs send me and re-render them with color pencil, giving my interpretation of the image).

But I’ve also been thinking a lot about books. There are those who say that print books are on the way out, that tablets and kindles and eBooks are going to take over, and a print book will become a thing of the past. I confess I have a Kindle, but I don’t use it a lot, and when I do, only to pass the time while waiting or traveling. I spent a couple pleasant hours reading Jane Smiley on a plane to Knoxville. And in a few days I’ll be flying to Syracuse, NY; I plan to keep my sanity and pass the time by reading some guilty pleasure. What do I have on my Kindle? Mostly novels, and of those, a number of “historical” fictions. I put historical in quotations because some of the novels are three- or four-volume stories of the lives of ordinary people living in ordinary times. But the artistry of the writer renders all that is ordinary into something special; after all, as Annie Dillard notes, we are all individuals, even if there are 7.5 billion people on the planet. She raises an interesting question: is it good that there are so many individuals? I don’t know.

I also was thinking about books because one of my writer-friends on Facebook posed a seemingly simple and harmless question: do you mark your place in a book with a bookmark, or are you a “monster” (his word, his bias, but I’ll buy it) who dog-ears the page? I answered that I use a bookmark; and that those who dog-ear are not only disrespecting (is that a real word? I’ve heard it all over the place, used by angry people) the book, but insulting the dog. I like dogs well enough, but I and my immediate family are all cat people. I do not, however, have a cat, not because I don’t want one (I do, desperately) but they’re not allowed where I live. But small (30 pounds or less) dogs are. WTF?

Anyway, as a poet, I am something of a Language Police Officer, correcting my friends’ grammar, and texting in whole, real words, with appropriate punctuation. My therapist says my nightly texts she requires of me are like little novels, and besides reading them for whatever she is looking for, she also finds them funny, profound, and as they’re written in stream-of-consciousness, fascinating.  (My psychiatrist says she would like to get a look into my brain: she is, besides a licensed psychiatrist, a board-certified neurologist. My answer to her is, just wait until  what is for me a more convenient time.) My question is, is written language–the Queen’s English as it were–going to go by the board, such that future, and not-so-future generations will not be able to decipher, “Are you good (adverbs are rapidly disappearing, so I’ve used an adjective. Mea culpa)? I am good today too. Laugh out loud.” Rather, they will think “R U good? I M good 2day 2. LOL.” is how words are written. I understand that language evolves and changes, but can you imagine a world without real language, with real words such as we speak now.? As an example of an abominable evolution is “Impact.” Originally only a noun, now it is used as a verb (this will impact you), a descriptor (that is an impactful idea), and most recently–and I’m not making this up–we need to impactify. I’ve even heard (and this monster actually brings the terror full circle without realizing it) we need to consider the impactification of the project.  What can I say?

Anyway, back to books. I understand that the Bal Shem Tov, when cleaning the study room after the men had finished studying Torah, would occasionally find a book left open on a bench. Did he put a bookmark into it? No. Did he dog-ear the page? No. What he did do is put a prayer shawl over its open pages. He respected books, as did many of those who were fortunate enough to have a book or two. BTW (I just thought I’d tease you with that), the Bal Shem Tov was believed, as a boy and young man to be illiterate and incapable of understanding words. But later, he was recognized as the “good master of the name,” that he was the greatest of those who know and use the name of God. I should put my prayer shawl over the Tanakh when I’ve read my portion.

Anyway, I love books, real books. And that is mostly what I read. As for the [necessary] evil of the e-book, airlines won’t let you check more than 50 pounds of baggage. When I go on a trip, I need at least that. And then, what about things like clothes and toothpaste and shampoo, etc.? The Kindle has its uses. Mine runs the gamut from Sagan, Tuchman and Bronowski, to Smiley, Mantel, Thomas Wolfe, Dickens, and others. I can satisfy any mood I’m in as I go about.

One last thing. When, in the Bal Shem Tov’s time, a book wore out, it was buried like a human being, with prayers and blessings. When I die, I want to take a book with me, because I don’t know what they’ve got going wherever I’m going. And what book? Why, the one that made me the writer I am today: The Voice That Is Great Within Us, a collection of best poems from the first the quarters of the twentieth century. Just put the book in a baggie, and place it in my hands, and forget about all the fancy stuff. I am a human. I am a particular human. And books have made me what I am.