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Re: [BKARTS] relevance of the book in the internet age + word rap

Charles asks:

> Why else would people treasure books (and not necessarily old
> or beautiful ones) in languages they can't read?
> ...what cultural work do books (as such) do
> besides the conventionally cited cuddle-factor?

Two good questions, which I will address in a moment, but first the word wrap rap:

Charles, it would be easier to read them if you configure your e-mail client so the text will wrap--I had to copy and paste your message into Word to read it. Those of us who read Book_arts-l at the archive find it difficult when messages are sent that way. If you are not aware of what your messages looks like (and it's not just Charles--EVERYONE should check their messages in the archive) please go to

To the questions:

I am one of those people who has bought many old (15th-16th century on up) books in languages I can't read. And it was not for the cuddle factor, though it may be related to that. It all started one day in 1968 when I was reading a leather bound copy of Adam Smith's /The Wealth of Nations/, the 1776 edition, a copy that bore the signature of the French Minister of Finance.

It was the third or fourth edition I had read, the others being 20th century. The text was the same, but holding the copy that had been read by one of the most powerful men in the European economy the year it was written changed my understanding dramatically. It made me undertake reading the French precursors of Smith, particularly the physiocrat Quesnay, whose /Tableau Economique/ I then read in the original French. An English translation of Mirabeau's revision of Quesnay was printed in London in 1766 and must have influenced Smith. No copy of that English edition was available.

What was it that changed my perception of the book and turned me into a collector? It was more than just the intellectual knowledge of who had owned it. I felt TRANSFORMED while holding the book. It was a FETISH object and transmitted the spirit of someone who had held it before.

I have some theories about how that spiritual effect is achieved, but won't bore you with that now. The point is that I started collecting books with vibes, whether or not I could read the texts.

A similar effect happens with everyone who owns a book, even if purchased new. As soon as it leaves the bookstore it changes. Digital information does not change--it's the same string of ones and zeros in every copy, and unless the memory is damaged it stays the same no matter how many times it is read.

A book gets coffee spilled on it, pages are marked, it's dropped and the corner is bent. Each of these events is a memory embodied in the book. I expect most readers of this distribution list have had the experience of picking up a book they had last touched years or decades ago, and some physical attribute evoked a memory.

In 1972 a woman walked into my storefront bindery with her cookbook to be repaired. She had used it for 50 years, and it was a wreck.The repair cost $50. She could have had another copy for $5 or so. But this one had all the food stains, all the memories of 50 years of cooking.

Best regards,

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