Earlier this month, you might remember, I visited Amherst, MA, for homecoming weekend at Amherst College. During that weekend Dennis and I took a side trip to Hampshire College to visit the National Yiddish Book Center. How and why we came to make this side trip is a story for another day, but suffice it to say we were awe struck as we parked our car and strolled into this incredible center. We were welcomed into the center and invited to watch a short video on the history of the National Yiddish Book Center. The words of the narrator were both comforting and chilling: “Throughout their long history, Jews have turned to books as a ‘portable homeland’, the repository of collective memory and culture.” What struck me about this statement is while it is true for Jews, I think it is also true for most people. That is, our books ground us as we move from place to place, from home to home. Looking back on my adult life, I have always treasured my books and I have never felt quite settled in a new home (whether it be a college dorm, a new apartment or a spacious house) until the books are gently set in a place of honor. It is not that I keep re-reading these books, but the fact that they are present in my home makes me feel settled.
My books are a conglomeration of novels, history, memoirs, poetry…many were gifts from friends and family or simply passed to me from my parents over the years. I have packed these books so many times over my adult life, at least 16 times, that each time it has become a ritual to hold the books, dust them and then quietly set them on a shelf…”just in case”. They represent a part of my life’s history. What I particularly love to do is read the personal inscriptions that many of them hold, written by people that have touched my life.
A few months ago I was riding in a car with Darin and Lisa McClure and Lisa reached into her purse and retrieved a new “gadget.” I asked her about it and she cheerfully extolled the virtues of her Kindle, Amazon’s wireless reading device. According to Amazon this is “a convenient, portable reading device with the ability to wirelessly download books, blogs, magazines, and newspapers.” I could see that the device was all of those things, but what about the book? In other words, what about the essence of the book itself: Buying the book, reading the book, holding the book, referring back to the book, sharing the book, and giving it a place of honor on your book shelf? What about the “dust cover(s)”? Here is how this new “reading” works. First you buy the Kindle for about $360. Then there is the download purchase vs the traditional purchase. For example, in 2005 Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. If you purchase the hardcover version of this book it will run about $35, the softcover version is about $21 and the Amazon Kindle version is $9.99. You can learn more about the Kindle by watching this YouTube video.
I invite you to visit on-line The National Yiddish Book Center. You can enjoy their video “A Bridge of Books: The Story of the National Yiddish Book Center.” As you view this video, you might wonder about the meaning of the word “save”.
According to Merriam-Webster’s On-Line Dictionary, the intransitive verb “save” has the following meanings: “1 a: to deliver from sin b: to rescue or deliver from danger or harm c: to preserve or guard from injury, destruction, or loss d: to store (data) in a computer or on a storage device (as a floppy disk or CD).” Now ponder a Kindle vs the National Yiddish Book Center. A Kindle depicts definition “d”, while projects like National Yiddish Book Center honors definitions “b” and “c”.
Going back to the “portable homeland” and “just in case”…a few months ago my youngest son asked me if I had ever read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. Imagine my delight when I was able to walk to our bookshelves and retrieve my copy of this book. It had been a gift (1968 price for this hardbound book was $3.95) to me 40 years ago and still I could find it, touch it and present my copy of Gibran’s masterpiece to my son to touch, read and enjoy. Simply amazing, dust cover included!