Drew WibergComment

When the Writing Desk is a Raven

Drew WibergComment
When the Writing Desk is a Raven

I am writing this down on paper with pencil, first, before typing it up and feeding it to the internet. I'm doing this because it is a post about 'book'. Not 'books', but 'book', the state or quality of bookiness.

I wanted to feel the paper beneath my hand and the tip of the mechanical pencil moving across the page. It seemed disingenuous to write about bookiness without engaging with one in the process. The digital and the physical are the subject of this post. How one can become the other. I am interested in the bookiness of things and have been since spending three semesters studying artists books at UW-Milwaukee under the Head of Special Collections, Max Yela. Go check him out, he's cool people.

I learned a lot from him but what is really sticking with me lately is the experience of bookiness and how, I feel, it is now an innate part of the human psyche. I think we have lived with bookiness long enough that it has been coded into our genetic code.

<aside> as I write this, a random passerby exclaimed to me in a Latin accent "Oooooh, hand wrrriting, good job!" </aside>

Where was I? Yes, bookiness as a part of being human. The woman who cat-called my penmanship thought it an unusual enough activity to say something. Are books that unusual? Is paper bound between covers, like this Moleskine, an anomaly? Maybe, yeah probably, OK, probably definitely. But bookiness on the other hand, I would argue that it is with us at a very deep level.

My wife and I have two lovely kids, a son and daughter, and the way of the book is strong with them. I remember being fascinated by how my daughter intuited how a book worked (after she had gotten over how good they tasted). She knew how to use book technology to access the entertainment inside. She knew to ask me to interpret the encoded characters as well. My son, the second child, has been even faster in picking up these skills, so fast that they seem like instinct.

The both of them are also tiny experts at using the tablet computers in the house. This, of course, has something to do with the bookiness of the tablet, but I think there is something more going on here. The deep understanding of book that my kids seem to have come prepackaged with, lends itself to their quick mastery of flat objects with touch screens that you swipe back and forth on.

Books are an amazing example of 'imbrication', or the nature of overlapping like the scales of a fish. Wax tables and scrolls had certain qualities, DNA that they passed on to the codex. The codex has passed its genes on to its digital progeny. Book technology came from the minds of humans but really, when considering this quality of passing on its characteristics and evolving to live in new ecosystems (virtual vs the real), shouldn't we at least consider it to be its own species?

When is the writing desk a raven? When the qualities of the two completely different entities share a common thread and that thread is picked up and followed on its journey.

No, as long as we are human, we will never be free of 'book'. We are in a symbiotic dance together into the future.