Also, The Menu Is Not The Meal

August 8th, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

It was a good weekend at The Guardian, and while we’re working our way through their story on editors (this is one that requires deep thought), we turn our attention to the notion of books and libraries and people who are precious about such things. It reminds us of those who only eat pasta with red sauce, and not the spicy kind.

In Marina Warner’s argument for the importance of physical books, there is a lot of discussion of word-pictures and the beauty of language and the relationship between the author and the reader. The power of all this is summed up in a funny story:

If you think about the artist’s problem for a moment, it becomes clear that picturing fundamental acts of human wrongdoing does not lend itself to images in a child’s early reading primer. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” showed the little boy and his playmate kneeling on the floor on either side of a waste-paper basket; they were tearing up books and throwing away the pages – some of these were illustrated, though not distinctly enough to see how. As the daughter of a bookseller, I quickly grasped that adultery was the sin of tearing up books – and, figuratively, spoiling their contents, like scribbling on the pictures, which I was also commanded not to do.

At least she’ll never cheat on her husband! Warner then attempts to bolster her argument, but fails. She does, however, reinforce many positives of story-telling. She cites the acquisition of a highly expensive copy of a book. So expensive that only one copy could be purchased. The students in her class passed the book around. This lead to the following conclusion:

Often we work from photocopies, but we passed this book around and read aloud in turn from the pages, very carefully, and the book’s material presence changed our relationship to the poem and imprinted it more richly in memory.

She doesn’t provide evidence for this conclusion, though any reader can make that leap alone. She seems to indicate that there is only one true way to enjoy a story, when it is evident that many exist. Readers mix and match their needs to available technologies — physical books, audio books, downloadable books — in order to get to the heart of the issue. Remember, the map is not the territory.

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