Wednesday, August 5, 2009

People And The Odd Things Up To Which They Get

I have a secret fascination with people who do weird things. (I spent the August long weekend knitting a pair of mittens - I know about people who do weird things.) I particularly love it when people do peculiar things and then write books about the experience. A timely example, of course, is the book, about to be released as a movie, about the lady who decided to make all the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking over the course of a year. If you haven't read the book, please do. It's hilarious. (Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell)

Only slightly less well known, however is a book I bought in Victoria: Reading the OED: One man, one year, 21,730 pages by Ammon Shea. Yes, you guessed it, it's about a dude who read the entire Oxford English Dictionary (the 20 volume, 150 pound version) over a year.

It is very, very funny, as one would expect a book about reading the dictionary to be.

Although I laughed many times while reading the book, I marked this page, where the author is talking about why he does not choose to read the OED on a computer:

You cannot drop the computer on the floor in a fit of pique, or slam it shut. You cannot leave a bookmark with a note on it in a computer and then come upon it after several years and feel happy you've found something you thought you had lost. You cannot get any sort of tactile pleasure from rubbing the pages of a computer. (Maybe some people do get a tactile pleasure from rubbing their computers, but they are not people I have any interest in knowing anything about.)

Reading on a computer screen gives you no sense of time or investment. The page always looks the same, and everything is always in the same exact spot. When reading a book, no matter how large or small it is, a tension builds, concurrent with your progress through its pages. I get a nervous excitement as I see the number of pages that remain to be read draining inexorably from the right to the left. The fact that this will happen twenty times over as I read the OED does not in any way diminish its appeal.

I've never sat down at a new computer and, prior to using it, felt a deep and abiding need to open it up and sniff it as deeply as I can, the way I have with many a book. To me, computers all smell the same, and their smell is not a nice one. And though a computer will inarguably hold far more information than even the largest of books, sitting down at a computer has never provided me with that delicious anticipatory sense that I am about to be utterly and rhapsodically transported by the words within it.

I've never looked across the room at my computer and fondly remembered things that I once read in it. I can while away hours at a time just standing in front of my books and relive my favourite passages by merely gazing at their spines. I have never walked into a room full of computers, far from home, and immediately felt a warm familiarity come over me, the way I have with every library I've ever set foot in.

And to that, my friends, I have only one thing to say: Word.

1 comment:

Mrs. Spit said...

Mr. Spit has an illegitimately procured Kindle. I mock him for it. . . That's not a book.