Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Why We Love Books

There’s this wonderfully pithy headline from an insightful, award-winning ad that says, “You can take a book anywhere, & vice versa.” And just in case you belong to the cynical set who don’t believe what advertising tells them, here’s something on a more intellectual note: the immortal wisdom of Groucho Marx, which tells us “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Clear proof that books are among the most exalted inventions ever. They are almost unrivalled as mind-transport devices (some might say Scotch whisky is a competitor in this area), and they are loyal friends who will never desert you. Two immensely important and unbeatable reasons that partially explain our enduring love affair with books.

If you continue along this mental plane, you will soon be able to list 27 more such reasons, each loftier than the last. Your list would include items like education, broadening of horizons, culture warehousing, and contribution to the GDP (yes, GDP – writers may not eat much, but they spend plenty on movies, oddball clothing and recreational beverages).

So are there only 29 reasons why we love books? Look beyond the obvious, and you will find that books enrich our lives in many more varied and unexpected ways. Books do so much for us just by being books – over and above what’s actually printed inside. Here’s a brief enumeration:

Reason # 30 Interior décor: Nothing can quite match the retro chic of an overflowing bookshelf. Strategically strewn around the house, books convey an image of intellectual depth and cogent opinions. Leather-bound encyclopaedias, dog-eared second-hand paperbacks and back issues of National Geographic are now eagerly sought by newbie homeowners as decoration items. And bookcase wallpaper is quickly gaining popularity among apartment-dwellers who haven’t the space for the real stuff.

Reason # 31 Personal décor: Sitting in a conference room at a recent meeting, I noticed the person next to me was carrying a copy of Moby Dick. Being casually acquainted with the works of Herman Melville, I was quite impressed by this young man who seemed to willfully dive into the classics for en-Metro entertainment. But a couple of minutes later, he pulled out a Parker, opened the book and started taking notes. Moby Dick was revealed to be a cover, in more ways than one.

Reason # 32 Efficiency enhancement: Notwithstanding the popularity of auto-spellchecks, online thesauri and Wikipedia, I still love my trustee old Oxford English Dictionary. In fact, the expanded 2008 edition enjoys pride of place in the exact centre of my table. Every morning when I walk into my office, I bring out the laptop and gratefully place it on the dictionary. This effectively raises the laptop by three inches and brings the screen to eye-level. The OED has worked wonders for my posture and the state of my neck muscles.

Reason # 33 Healthy repose: Across the world, sleep therapists regularly prescribe the classics in particularly stubborn cases of insomnia. 10 to 20 pages of Charles or William, taken at bedtime, is the recommended medium dose for adults. Similarly applied, Physics textbooks have produced excellent results in children. And for emergencies, Forrester’s Classification Of The Types And Sub-species Of Tanzanian Speckled Mushrooms remains the unrivalled fail-safe cure.

Reason # 34 Pre-anesthesia: Ever since this technique was perfected in 1952, dentists have been using back issues of film and gossip magazines to dull the senses of patients in the waiting room. So when it’s time to extract a molar or go rooting about in a root canal, the dentist can use just a small top-up dose of Novocain. Much more economical, and less trauma for the patient too.

Reason # 35 Self-preservation: Research shows that most people flounder in the presence of perceived intellectual depth. Frequent flyers use this information to pre-empt unwelcome conversations. At the merest suspicion that a neighbouring bore is about to open his mouth, they dive into the pages of a hefty paperback. Even seasoned bores have been known to change seats when confronted with a terror tome like Techniques in Differential Calculus. Fly Without Fear Pvt Ltd manufactures slip-on covers with daunting titles, which fit snugly around standard-thickness murder mysteries. Their Advanced Karate cover is reportedly a hot seller among women commuters.

Reason # n: I could go on – weight training, propping up broken-legged coffee tables, pressing flowers – but you should try this yourself. Look around and discover more reasons why books are lodged so firmly in our hearts.

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