People tell me they love books. I am told we all must read books. Books, I hear, are the purveyors of culture, intrigue, adventure, romance, solace, and are our silent companions in times of spiritual loneliness. With a jug of wine, a loaf of bread and a book we are almost complete, whole, and cannot despair of the present or the future, taking a bite of the bread, a sip of the wine and brandishing our book as if it were a sword.
The love of books sounds so cultural, so emblematic, and so idealistic that no one dares challenge the slogan, the phrase. How could anyone say otherwise? If I went against the grain I would be thought of being part of the ragtag and bobtail, those who scoff at reading. Reading books especially.
As I am an honorary member of the ragtag and bobtail, I have nothing to lose… So here I go.
The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset said that if 95 percent of Spaniards kept their mouths shut Spain would be a better place to live. And paraphrasing that I will say that if 95 percent of the books in print nowadays were not published, the world would be a better place to live and trees would grow taller and greener.
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A book, after all, is nothing but paper in the form of pages, with covers and a design, a title and letters printed on each leaf. I cannot worship, idolize, that object as a totem. I cannot offer sacrifices to it to appease both the publisher and the public. A book by itself does not command my affection or admiration, even though the covers, the printing, the paper are often true works of art. But that is a horse of a different color.
When I hear the remark “I love books,” I grin inwardly. Forgive them Father for they know not what they are saying. No, sorry. A book is a book: paper, covers, title, a cover design, I repeat, nothing else.
We must shift our worship, if any, to authors, not books. A book is a physical carrier of adventures, romance, philosophy, messages for the soul, and spiritual relief, solace… the work of a human being, the intellectual efforts of a person who has labored, thought, pondered for some time. The author, not the book, should be the object of our admiration. We should shift from “I love books” to “I love writers.”
What writers are we reading? That is the question, rather than “I am buying and carrying books.”
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Why all this? Because I am well past fifty and I have had plenty of time to read and cannot diddle with just any book. Now I must read authors, writers who can help me to become a better human being, a better person, through their works in whatever format they come: e-book, paper book, newspaper, blog… I do not care, as long as the writer is worth his salt to me. To me, I say, because one man’s meat can be another man´s poison.
I no longer worship books per se; now I worship writers and what they have had and have to say to inspire me and help me carry on with my life, a little happier, a little wiser, a little gladder, and with more confidence and hope in art, in the humanities, in the intrinsic goodness of the human spirit. Spinoza, George Santayana, Hemingway. Shakespeare, Cervantes, Galdós, Dickens, Dickinson, Balzac… and so many others, who have left a legacy of assistance and solace for us all.
Do not go around proclaiming your love for “books.” Tell all and sundry about your favorite authors and what you gleaned from them. Discuss authors and their work, not books. What do you think?