The power of the physical book

Books have power.

Not as much as stories. Stories predate books, and will outlive them too. The most important thing about the inevitable decline of books is that stories continue to be told, in whatever form keeps them alive, in the greatest number of minds. I don’t have a book fetish.

But there is no doubt that the physical book – the bound paper artefact – has power.

Today my photo book arrived. It tells the story of an adventure that my wife, four kids and I had in New Zealand. It tells it in photographs that I already posted on Flickr, and in words that I have already published on my blog. It goes into only a tiny amount of the detail we have related to our friends over dinner.

And yet.

And yet, it is a beautiful thing to behold. It is a beautiful thing to hold. It has weight, and sheen, and smell. I can flick through it, jump backwards and forwards among the pages, pass it to another person and watch her smile. I can crease it at my favourite pages, display it proudly on my bookshelf, write ‘Happy Birthday’ to my wife in the front. I can glimpse it in the corner and think, ‘there’s a thing that I made.’

I can’t imagine my children throwing this one away, as they clear out the attic when my wife and I are dead. They’ll flick through the pages too, and wonder at their young selves, and show their own offspring the time that Grandad marched them in the rain to see their first glacier.

Beyond that, who knows? But books have power, far more than the sum of the words within.