With the advent of technology, the value of books has depreciated. Replacing hard-copy novels, electronic devices have become a posh alternative. While these e-readers are easily transportable and offer readers access to a wide range of publications on a single tablet, they lack the personal connection that is forged when one’s finger grazes across a paper page. The sense of accomplishment that is derived from completing a lengthy novel or decoding a murder mystery is lost when a story ends by clicking off a tablet. The electronic story cannot be shelved on a family bookcase, passed on to a friend with glowing recommendations, or placed in a recycle bin if deemed unsatisfactory. When transferred to an electronic format a story becomes an unrepeated movie, rather than a persistent memory.
Silently standing in the Morgan Library and Museum’s main study, I was reminded of the calculable benefits of tangible books. Cataloging fleeting memories of the past, projecting future outcomes, crafting fanciful tales of imaginary worlds, and documenting physical phenomena, the books in the Morgan Library housed wisdom. Concertos by Beethoven flanked rare copies of the Gutenberg Bible, which accompanied medieval manuscripts recording the Book of Hours.
I stepped next into the temporary exhibition, “Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland,” which further reinforced my belief in the necessity of preserving the written word in its physical form. As summed up by Alice herself, “what is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?” With the loss of physical books, there is simultaneously a loss in vivid, imaginative conversations. While the Internet provides many answers and e-readers provide easy access, books prompt real conversations. The tangibility of a book adds a physical weight to the moral questions debated in the text. Mimicking the Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, we must continue to ask the puzzling questions and seek to determine why things are as they seem. Moreover, I agree with the Cheshire Cat: we’re all mad here. While we cannot help that, we can use the fantasy world of books to derive how best to approach the moral and ethical complexities of the physical world that we inhabit.