by Jerry Stern

I have just come from an exhibition that told me that books will be replaced by electronic libraries, talking videos, inter-active computers, CD-ROMs with thousands of volumes, gigabytes of memory dancing on pixillated screens at which we will blearily stare into eternity.

And so, in the face of the future, I must sing the song of the book, nothing more voluptuous do I know than sitting with bright pictures, fat upon my lap, and turning glossy pages of giraffes and Gauguins, penguins and pyramids. I love wide atlases delineating the rise and fall of empires, the trade routes from Kashgar to Samarkand.

I love heavy dictionaries, their tiny pictures, complicated columns, minute definitions of incarnative and laniary, hagboat and fopdoodle.

I love the texture of pages, the high gloss slickness of magazines as slippery as oiled eels, the soft nubble of old books, delicate india paper, so thin my hands tremble trying to turn the fluttering dry leaves, and the yellow cheap, coarse paper of mystery novels so gripping that I don=t care that the plane circles Atlanta forever, because it is a full moon and I am stalking in the Arizona desert a malevolent shape-shifter.

I love the feel of ink on the paper, the shiny varnishes, the silky lacquers, the satiny mattes.

I love the press of letters in thick paper, the roughness sizzles my fingers with centuries of craft embedded in pulped old rags, my hands caress the leather of old bindings crumbling like ancient gentlemen.

The books I hold for their heft, to riff their pages, to smell their smoky dustiness, the rise of time in my nostrils.

I love bookstores, a perfect madness of opportunity, a lavish feast eaten by walking up aisles, and as fast as my hand reaches out, I reveal books' intimate innards, a doleful engraving of Charlotte Corday who murdered Marat, a drawing of the 1914 T-head Stutz Bearcat whose owners shouted at rivals, "there never was a car worser than the Mercer."

I sing of these pleasures of white paper and black ink, of the small jab of the hard cover corner at the edge of my diaphragm, of the look of type, of the flip of a page, the sinful abandon of the turned down corner, the reckless possessiveness of my marginal scrawl, the cover picture--as much a part of the book as the contents itself, like Holden Caulfield his red cap turned backwards, staring away from us, at what we all thought we should become.

And I also love those great fat bibles evangelists wave like otter pelts, the long graying sets of unreadable authors, the tall books of babyhood enthusiastically crayoned, the embossed covers of adolescence, the tiny poetry anthologies you could slip in your pocket, and the yellowing cookbooks of recipes for glace blanche Dupont and Argentine mocha toast, their stains and spots souvenirs of long evenings full of love and argument, and the talk, like as not, of books, books, books.

(Reproduced in memory of its author, Jerry Stern (1938-1996), English Professor, author, radio commentator, and for many, many years the center of culture at Florida State University and Tallahassee, Florida. Booklove originally aired on National Public Radio.)


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