The other day I left my computer in the middle of a writing project to look something up. I actually left my chair, pulled a book from grad school from my bookcase, scanned the index, and turned to a page that suddenly looked familiar, marked up with notes I had left like breadcrumbs. I hadn’t done anything like that in years.
Once upon a time, a writer and scholar had to have a personal library. Ready access to the world’s knowledge, and your personal collection of it, was essential, to productivity. Either you spent a lifetime collecting, curating, and caretaking physical books, or you had to camp out in a library, preferably one like the New York Public or the British Museum Reading Room.
Today, though, a Google search is usually much more efficient, and often superior, to tracking down physical books to find a needed passage or detail.
That made me wonder: As so many of us strive to unclutter our lives or move toward a paperless world, and as pundits predict the demise of the physical book, are there any books we still need to own? Could we be satisfied with only digital access to literature? And if we do need any physical books at all, which ones are really worth keeping?
Surely once in a while there’s still no substitute for holding that physical page in your hand. Maybe you have some visual memory of its content. Maybe you annotated it years ago. Or maybe it evokes some ineffable emotion.
So, I’m tossing out the question:
If you could own only one physical book, what would it be, and why?
You only get one book, but you can still get anything you want digitally or in a physical library. But you only have one book of your very own, to have and hold whenever you so choose. So, what would it be?
I’ll share some of the answers in next month’s blog. In the meantime, cheers!