For those of you who don’t know, “books” are those hard, flat things made out of paper and cardboard most often used to stabilize wonky table legs. But now that you’re at university, it will most likely be expected of you to read, or at least purchase, several of these “books” for your course of study. In addition to these books, I’m here to convince you that it’s a good idea to got out and read other books, the content of which may not necessarily apply to your studies, but that you can read anyways. Voluntarily. For Fun.
“Ffummphf” I hear you grunt dismissively “Books? Why would I, with my busy First Year lifestyle, want to read books? I’ve got barely enough time as it is, I mean, those skanks at Shooters aren’t exactly gonna pick themselves up, know what I’m sayin?!”
“Yeah, and besides” I hear one of your equally insolent hostel chums chirp in uninvited “We’re young, hip and media savvy, We’ve got DVDs, the Internet, 50 Cent and Dance Dance Revolution! What would we want with such an archaic, time-burglar of an entertainment form such as books?”
Well, as Salient Books Editor for 2005 it’s my job, nay my duty, to tell you right off the bat that your situation’s all fucked up. Large multi-national media conglomerations have been making good folk like you and me their patsies for far too long. Like the obedient toddler of some confused, sandal-wearing, short-sleeved-shirt-tucked-into-khaki-shorts, cell-phone-on-the-belt tourist aboard the Interisland Ferry that is life, we’ve spent our time trapped in a futile and endless orbit of the onboard cafe of information.
Well fear not, my chubby young traveler, for relief is at hand! The dry papery embrace of the book can draw you lovingly away from the wantonly cruel cycle of endless torment of the popular media machine to the cozy, crescent-shaped couch of the written word, where one is free to stretch out, relax and rest our $4.50 Export Drys of quality literature upon the conveniently placed, circular tables of well developed characters, original plot ideas, challenging themes and expertly placed irony and cynicism.
It must be admitted, here and now, that technologically speaking the development of the book was pretty much done and dusted some centuries ago. I know that. We all know that. I believe, however, that this adds to the value of the medium, rather than detracting from it. The use of the written word to communicate information, experiences, personal realities and truths across time and space, both in their fictional and non fictional forms, is as tangible a part of our cultural inheritance as the shoes we wear on our feet and as pervasive as the idea that the sky is, always has been and always will be blue.
It is the heady mix of technological practicality, social potency and the generous slatherings of time that endow the humble book with many of its tremendous attributes. In short, books have been around so gosh darn long that we, as a species, couldn’t have helped but get good not only at writing them, but more importantly at reading them, too.
Time, the sheer weight of it held within books, can become tangible in itself. It is something you can see, in the winding, criss-crossing maze of styles, genres and traditions to which all new books must in some way belong. It is also something you can feel, the strange atmosphere of an old, yellowed, umpteenth-hand book. Given form in strange smudges, fingerprints, pencil-jotted margins, folded corners, frayed edges and sellotape repairs, you get the feeling that an individual book has developed a character, a soul all of it’s own. That by reading it, page by page you are becoming in some way linked to all the other people who have read it before you, and all the people who may read it in the future. I don’t think I really need to tell you why you should read books. I think you already know!
Now, I’m a realist. I realise that it may very well be that in some distant future the confounding mix of brightly coloured plastic bric-a-brac and dial driven tom-foolery comprising the mass-media apparatus of the electronic and digital ages will inflict significant degrees of sensory trauma upon humanity so as to make us forget the magic of the written word, and depend solely of the flashy lights and loud noises which they so crassly pedal. Where ancient tomes of information are lost, forgotten, destroyed and recycled into the unnecessary packaging for preservative-drenched fast food. But not on my shift it won’t! I, Baden Allen, Salient Books Editor for 2005 and my team of dedicated reviewers will work tirelessly to bring you, the student, the information you need to make the best possible decisions about which books you should and should not read, so that we may stand like strong, unbending oaks in the whirlwind of our strange times fulfilling the one timeless calling of our existence…To. Read. Books!
Feel inspired? To review for Salient’s books pages, email Baden on <books [at] salient.org.nz>