Last night, I was watching Buffy, The Vampire Slayer—hey, everyone’s entitled to a guilty pleasure or two. The episode first aired in 1997, but its message is even more relevant today. What is this timeless pearl of Wisdom?
Here’s the setup: Giles, the high school librarian and Buffy's Watcher (if you aren’t familiar with the show—besides really missing out—you need to know he fills the role of her the older, wiser mentor type) falls for the school's computer lab instructor. Just one problem (besides the fact that there’s a monstrous demon hiding out in the computer system): Giles hates computers. He explains his aversion to reading information on a screen as follows:
“Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences... long forgotten. Books smell. Musty and—and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer, is, uh, it... it has no, no texture, no, no context. It's, it's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, then, then the getting of knowledge should be, uh, tangible, it should be, um... smelly.”
I think this quote is timely today, as we experience the dawn of the ebook revolution. A time when so many are predicting the death of the printed book.
If I love a book, truly love it (1984, The Martian Chronicles, Danny Champion of the World), then I want to touch its pages, see how the words linger in print, and yes, I want to smell it.
Will we ever stop printing books? Maybe paperbacks. But they’ll always be books, and not just as collector’s items gathering dust in some old eccentric's private library. At least in our lifetime, too many people have a love for the printed word and will be willing to pay a premium to hold their lovers in all her hardbound glory (kinda gives new meaning to the word stacked, doesn't it)?
So, when we talk about the death of books, let's not forget: Books smell.