Are bibliophiles more human?

book collection

In my neck of the woods, I am seeing mums replacing sunflowers at the farm markets, which means it's only a matter of minutes before pumpkin-spiced {fill in the blank} and, (God forbid) Christmas decorations start hitting the shelves.

(Heavy sigh...)

Yes, it's coming down to the last week in August, and while this summer - like all of them anymore - has whooshed by, it certainly has been a season of plans and dreams coming to fruition.

For one, I have finally found a larger space in which to offer classes... which will be starting this week!

(see here for deets!)

Next month will be the long-awaited wedding to my partner-in-all-things, and for that I feel deeply blessed.

And then, just last Wednesday, I deposited my youngest son at college in Maryland. He fixated on this place ever since I mentioned it to him two years ago - being that its entire curriculum is based on the great books and ideas of Western civilization. And that's totally his thing.

So, besides being excited and overwhelmed by it all (me, I mean), I was intrigued by the speech given by the president of the college, concerning, of course, books.

And how he believed they make us more human.

He spoke (at length :) about the shared experiences book lovers have: toting long-unopened and heavy crates of beloved treasures from home to home; the awkwardness of trying to prop up an unwieldy volume while reading in bed, often after the proper light has faded; the penchant for underlining, dog-earring, piling up precariously on the nightstand, purchasing multiple copies to share or replace when loans go astray ... all of those seemingly inconvenient, burdensome, (justifiably) expensive rectangles of paper and binding that we simply would not give up for all the Kindles in the world.

What is it about an idea - one that be just as easily and more conveniently conveyed through dots on a lighted screen - that cannot compare to how it moves us in the way ink on many, and sometimes MANY  pages can?

How is it that the physical form makes the difference between 'consuming' a piece of work, and digesting, internalizing, and assimilating?

He suggested (and I would agree), it's about a relationship.

Perhaps an ineffable concept to really understand, but we bibliophiles can agree that receiving a book - whether as a gift from a loved one, or your new school, or discovered while perusing the shelves of a favorite book store - complete with the feel of its weight, the first opening of the pages, the smell - this gives nowhere near the same rush as a shared PDF.

He continued to speak about a particular book he kept in his office, one with 'a far more illustrious biography that he would ever have': a first edition print of Thomas Hobbes, "Leviathan", published when the English Civil War ended in 1651.

Can you just imagine the vibration, the energy, the hidden stories of every person who touched this book infused in the pages along with the subject matter?

We pass along ideas, concepts, stories, histories, information through the printed word.

We may come away inspired, bored, impacted, outraged, moved to laughter and tears, and, sure just as easily from words on a screen as on paper. But the inexplicable, sublime transfer that includes the color of the jacket, the turning of pages, the gifting of a favorite with an inscription speaks to other aspects of our humanness, our longing for connection, a taste of the substantial in a world of fleeting and easily deletable images.

We are learning how connected memory is to the physical experience of a thought or idea. To be more embodied as events are being stored in our cells is to give these memories context and deeper meaning for us. Of course, I also believe that the written word is not necessarily superior to oral or pictorial traditions - like those of indigenous or ancestral cousins - but even as we are reviving the power of the image through our technology, there is still something sorely lacking in how these messages move us to respond deeply, rather than react superficially.

I believe our humanness depends on our 'bodyfulness' as well as mindfulness.. our physical involvement as part of a relationship.

What are your thoughts? (And should I consider sending out a paper newsletter? ;)