Bookmark: In Praise of Physical Books

I feel like I annoyed some people on Twitter, which is actually not that hard to do (I’ve done that before). It always surprises me when this happens because I think I’m tweeting something innocuous, but sometimes people read tweets a lot more carefully than expected.

In this case, I wanted to praise the physical books.

I called them “real” books which made some people crazy. They thought I was implying that e-books and audiobooks weren’t real. I wasn’t thinking about that at all. I was just thinking how nice it is to spend time with a beautiful, well-designed physical book with thick paper pages, maybe with French edges and flaps, a book that takes its time to get straight to the point. goal and so you turn luxuriously page after page with title, epigram, dedication, table of contents, don’t rush here, don’t rush things, admire and slow down and reflect.

I love pretty much all physical books, to be honest. I love inexpensive paperbacks that you can put in a purse or backpack without worrying about damaging them, even old Bantam editions with the squalid covers. I love second-hand books that I pick up for a few dollars at Goodwill or a second-hand bookstore, with someone else’s inscriptions, underlines and bookmarks. I like books published during wartime, with fine paper to comply with government regulations; and I love the exquisite books, with frontispieces protected by tissue paper, and with embossed covers (white on white is particularly striking), and satin ribbon bookmarks, black and white illustrations, maps and charts, timelines and character casts.

I love them all.

There was a time, centuries ago, when books were highly prized and extremely valuable; they were so revered that they were treated as almost holy. Bookies made them one at a time. They adorned the covers with jewels and gold leaf, painstakingly stitched the pages together. The whole process could take weeks or even months, and when they were done: Voila! A book.

Years ago I came across a museum dedicated to the history of the book – the Chester Beatty Museum in Dublin Castle. I remember walking through this very modern space in this very old building and being speechless at the magnificent exhibits – vellum, papyrus, illuminated manuscripts of the Koran and the Bible, centuries-old hand-bound books. with leather covers and gold lettering and marbled cover pages.

I understand the easy appeal of eBooks and audiobooks, and agree that any way people come to reading is valid and “real”. Frankly, I read books on my iPad all the time, myself. I can thus carry as many titles as I want, enlarge the type and change the brightness of the screen. They are practical. But I don’t like them.

But physical books … oh my God, they’ve got weight, they’ve got a scent, they’ve got personality. Don’t you think you’re judging a book by its cover? Of course you do. I do. Everyone does it. By the embossed cover, the fringed edges and the marbled guards we will know them. Maybe I’ll come back to Twitter and say it.

Laurie Hertzel is the editor of the Star Tribune books. Write to him at

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