In Praise of Books – A Commentary on a Recent Award-winning Video

There is something about books, something wonderful, something mysterious. We have somehow symbolized reality by a miracle we call language. And one of the most precious and enduring form of language is the written word. Where did we ever think to denote our sounds with the lines and angles and curves we call letters. And where did we think to combine them endlessly into words, phrases a sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books, and libraries. Yet here you and I are now, mysteriously connected through this medium called language and the written word. Somehow these shapes on the screen symbolize reality and light up our mind.

There is an old saying, “Paper has perfect recall.” And thus, even as language and culture change, our books have held a kind of lasting memory of human thought and creativity. Even when living humans forget, books can remain on a shelf, only to be rediscovered many years later. People are forgetful, but paper has perfect recall.

Thank God the Jewish people and the early apostles and disciples carefully recorded what Jesus said and did, indeed, what God had done for thousands of years. Their paper and parchments have perfect recall and left us a careful accounting of what God said and did more lasting than mere human memory.

In this electronic age, I fear one day a terrible magnetic event or nuclear pulse will wipe clean the cyber space in which we currently write. I have sought to treasure what I write by making physical copies of it on CD and even printouts, for too frequently today, we write on what amounts to thin air. What of our electronic and virtual age will remain if (and when) that terrible magnetic event sweeps away most of what we generate today in the virtual (i.e. not quite real) word of cyber space (i.e. thin air)?? Much could well vanish if the event is global.

But our books may well remain. Yes, paper has perfect recall.

I thought of all this when seeing the video below. A young man sits writing and reading, quite enchanted. And suddenly a great storm sweeps everything away. Even the page he is looking at goes blank; all swept away in an instant.

In the aftermath of the storm he beholds a barren landscape, ruined and gray, all color gone.

But suddenly on the wind comes a beautiful woman, borne aloft by books, like so many balloons. She has vivid color and smiles and she tosses him a book. Yes, though most is gone, there are still the books.

And as he takes up the book, he regains his color and is led to a library of books. The world is once again enchanted, musical, colorful and creative. And he sets to preserving the books and dispensing them to sad souls, gray and dull, who come by the library. Taking the books, they regain their color.

Yes, there is just something about books. Paper has perfect recall. Be careful about converting too many things to electronic form. At least keep the important stuff physically etched to a CD-R or other physical format. The thrilling book One Second After details how our virtual world could collapse in an instant by way of a pulse bomb.

Enjoy this video which has a similar message, and reminds that books are wonderful things and that paper has perfect recall.

14 Replies to “In Praise of Books – A Commentary on a Recent Award-winning Video”

  1. When Rome collapsed Western Europe entered the Dark Age and so much was destroyed by roving bands and wars. Many books, and other stored knowledge was lost. Then came the Middle Age as the feudal system pulled the peoples of Western Europe together and lost knowledge was sought and then; in the monastaries; books.
    Books kept safe for when they would be needed.

    1. During the dark ages, if I do recall, there were two empires that were around that preserved stuff from ancient times, the Byzantine and Arab/Muslim empires. From both those sources, that knowledge came back to western Europe as well as the monastaries that you mentioned.

      1. Thank you. You do well to mention this sin of omission on my part which could easily imply that I meant that the monasteries were the only source.
        As an imperfect human my commentary can be brought closer to completion; and sometimes by being corrected corrected; through the input of others.

  2. Technology does not work, because it is not inter-operable with other devices and systems

  3. Thanks Msgr,, that’s a very nice post. We’ve gone back and forth among my friends about the merits of ebooks vs. (physical) books, and they’re all good – but you’ve summed it up succinctly.

    I found these quotes some time back, but perhaps they apply to what you wrote:

    “These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. From each of them goes out its own voice… and just as the touch of a button on our set will fill the room with music, so by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space, and hear him speaking to us, mind to mind, heart to heart.” ― Gilbert Highet

    “All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. … But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”

    ― Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree: A Hilarious and True Account of One Man’s Struggle With the Monthly Tide of the Books He’s Bought and the Books He’s Been Meaning to Read

  4. Reminds me of that episode of the Twilight Zone where Burgess Meredith plays the bankteller/bookworm who survives the nuclear catastrophe. He is completely desolate until he discovers that the books in the library haven’t been destroyed. I won’t reveal the surprise ending.

    1. One of the first episodes I saw……and I had to take my glasses off to wipe away my tears!

  5. In this electronic age, I fear one day a terrible magnetic event or nuclear pulse will wipe clean the cyber space in which we currently write.

    I’ve thought now and then about what life would be like if all of our technological conveniences were to be wiped out? How long before we all starved to death, got fatally ill from dysentery or other disease, or simply froze in the winter, all because we geniuses of the overly-mechanized future have forgotten how to do simple basic things that those backwards people of the past knew how to do, like start a fire or make soap or dig a well or discern edible plants from poisonous ones or even do basic math. A week, a month? Not all of us are Cody Lundin, the barefoot hippie on Dual Survival.

    I remember reading a short story, The Feeling of Power, by Isaac Asimov about the latter, a world where people had forgotten how to do arithmetic and were entirely dependent upon calculators and computers until some guy came along and showed them this amazing discovery of how to do calculations with nothing more than a piece of paper, pencil, and a few memorized operations!

    It is likely that we will see Asimov’s future (indeed, we see it already in our schools where kids are overly-dependent upon calculators to do math) before we see Bradbury’s future of Fahrenheit 451, where paper books (and flashdrive and CD-R backups) will be destroyed as humanity is required to go back to the oral tradition. (Just as we have seen Huxley’s Brave New World before we have fully lived in Orwell’s 1984 or Animal Farm.) However, I wouldn’t put it past the technological worshipers of progress to make our current computer technology obsolete, just like all those 8-track tapes and Betamax tapes and floppy disks. How long before our CD and DVD collections are nothing more than useless plastic, unless we can scrounge up an antique player? At least with an LP, you can still play it if you have something to turn it and cone of paper and a pin.

    I guess the lesson to be learned is the old lesson, the one that Jesus, et al., have tried to impress upon us many times — do not rely upon the things of this world, which are inherently temporary and will inevitably break down or become obsolete. Put your faith instead in the things eternal. Which, admittedly is easier to say than it is to live when your computer crashes and all those files that you kept saying you should back up, but never did, get lost forever.

  6. Thank you, Monsignor Pope, for the story and for the advise. Gonzalo T. Palacios.

  7. Books have multiple uses from interior decoration, to starting and solidifying relationships, holding things down, supporting things up at adjustable levels, and are wonderful sentimental keepsakes to be handed down from one generation to the next and often increase in value with age especially if signed by the author.

  8. I was blessed as little girl to share my home not only with my parents and older siblings, but also with my patient and loving grandmother. From her, I learned to read at the tender age of four, thrilled and tantalized with the power that came from black squiggles on a white page that translated into words and thoughts and stories and knowledge. I was HOOKED, and remain so today,on the far side of fifty.

    Being able to share in the minds and hearts of sages throughout the ages is still a miracle to me….and being privy to the Word of God and the thoughts of the Doctors of the Church~who could ask for more than this incredible blessing that comes from squiggles!

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