Books have spines, headbands, prefaces (and sometimes postfaces), appendices, running feet, footnotes, headnotes, shoulders; we speak of the body of the book and we bind the pages in signatures. Some have thumb indexes. All have heads (the top edge of the boards used to bind the pages) and tails (the bottom edge of the boards). Chapters have heads and subheads. What is most important is that imprinted on the body of the book are characters, and that these characters, the body with its spine, head, and tail, are then placed between covers, like a child being put to bed. We clothe it in a jacket often containing the image of the author. Each book has a publication date, like a birthday, and the production time for a typical book is around nine months.
This vocabulary describes a unique cultural object in which, for whatever reason, we have imprinted and externalized some image of our own construction. Perhaps this is the residue from the fact that the first books were printed on and bound in animal skin of one sort or another. Books are close to us. They are in some ways a little man or woman with things to say, evoke, caution, or denounce. A homunculus that sits quietly until called upon. They are not only something into which we pour our fantasies and fears. They are not the possession of a single person. They lead us to other people, to God, to nation, to contemplation or action, to hate, love, amusement, or despair. They connect us to generations removed by a thousand generations; they connect us to a future we can barely imagine…
Today, hardly a day passes in the publishing world without some mention of “”content”” or “”content providers.”” Entire websites are taken up with this obnoxious terminology… “”Content is still king”” is the advertisement for a website that purports to help aspiring writers in getting their “”content”” into circulation. We speak endlessly of electronic publishing, “”e-books,”” Kindles, Sony Readers, and so forth that take this “”content”” and disseminate it in seemingly limitless ways.
Yet the importance of God’s covenant was not that it was limitless but that it was limited, marked first on the foreskin of a single man, who was an alien in a strange land, friendless, and separated from his family. Nor was it enough that God’s words were in Abraham’s heart. It wasn’t enough that he remembered them. The embodiment of these words on the most sensitive part of his body was necessary. Words are easy. Embodied words require pain; they require an instrument-a knife, a kharakter; they require character. There is something tragic in their very limitation…
The book provides a body for whatever it is about us that gives us the power to be more than what we are. After the blanket and teddy bears, books are what children take to bed with them. They put their heads on them and fall asleep. We take a book to bed as children and a partner to bed after we have grown up. Children do not put their heads on “”content”” but on these unique embodiments and transmitters of a life beyond themselves that partake of mother or father, peacefulness, adventure, and pleasure; that have the smell of our skin or breath and accompany us into unconsciousness, fueling desire and ambition; that help us come to terms with regret or failure and, sometimes, if we are lucky, find our way toward an acceptance and a feeling of oneness with something we cannot touch but know remains after we are gone.
Adapted from Daydreamings on the Book by Jonathan Brent, 2012
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