Book Smell

I like books. Actual, physical, papery and inky books. Bound. Rough. Kind of smelly and very susceptible to destruction. Spilled coffee? Ran it through the washing machine? Dropped it into a fire? Someone at the profit margin department at HarperCollins just smiled. Yes, printed books are quite vulnerable to elemental breakdown. They are impervious to nothing — pervious, if you might.

My mom likes books. While we were growing up, she acquired some strange titles. I was so afraid for her salvation when she showed me her copy of the Book of Mormon, which I now realize was actually something that made her faith in Jesus even stronger. Mom often buys books for reasons that only she understands, and it’s been that way for about as long as I can remember. Mom would come home with a book about Eastern Cabinetry In the Middle Ages, and raved about it (or just put it on a shelf because it looked neat). Genetically speaking, my sister and I are prime candidates for really liking books, be they about other religions or the cabinetry used by other religions to store their books, thanks to Mom.

I’m thankful to say that I own books. This is no small deal compared to our history, especially pre-Guttenberg (press, not Steve). I just finished reading Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant, which I bought from Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, one of the best independent book stores around. While I was there, the guy behind the counter noticed my Pink Floyd shirt and suggested to me a book about Syd Barrett. I didn’t buy it because I had too many others in hand — all of which I think Mom would like, incidentally. Amazon suggests purchases based on what I’ve bought. The guy at the bookstore notices my shirt and makes connections that IBM’s Watson wouldn’t even make.

All this as prologue to my blog post point: I’m really, really, really sad that Borders Books has filed for bankruptcy. Like it or not, we are witnessing the end of an era.

They blame digital readers, at least in part. So do I. Equip a Kindle with a mechanism that sprays essence de book, and I’m there. I want that book smell. I what that book feel, too, but I think that might be asking too much. Also, if you could make it so that I can use my Kindle to steady uneven things that need a good shimming, that would be great. My point: digital readers can’t do everything that an analog book can do.

The Church Hymnal is one of my favorite books, especially in my line of work where hymnals are a precious commodity. It turns out that publishing companies don’t really print hymnals anymore, now that we’re in the Hillsong/Tomlin/Crowder vortex. I’m all for it, but I see the day where printed hymnals, with their ancient system of dots and lines and lyrics like “bullwark”, will make a vintage comeback in Generation Y, partly because they will have grown tired of screens and partly because they seek to connect with the ancient.
I have a deep appreciation for ancient hymns and their ancient writers (Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts, Don Moen*) but the truth is that it’s just a book. And we don’t worship books. We worship Jesus. And Jesus transcends culture and time. Should the Lord tarry for another 20 centuries, they will laugh at our ancient Kindle readers.

We use hymnals as a shim. Shymnals, I like to call them, whenever we use a few older hymnals to prop up a video projector or hold a window open. I’d like to see you use a Nook for that.

We are witnessing a cultural revolution that is showing no sign of slowing (since the rowers keep on rowing). And I have a bunch of relics in my office, a reminder of the value of the literally printed word. And it smells really good.

*high five to Don Moen!

About radamdavidson

When I'm not blogging, I'm hanging out with my family, pastoring a church, or listening to vinyl. I think and write about Jesus, music, communication, organizational leadership, family whatnot, and cultural artifacts from the 1980's -- mostly vintage boomboxes. You can read my blog at, watch [RadCast], a daily 3 minute video devotional, or find me on socials (@radamdavidson). I also help Pastors in their preaching and public speaking (
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5 Responses to Book Smell

  1. barclayfam says:

    There is a great used bookstore in Jonesville. The one time I was there they let me fill a paper grocery bag for $12.00. It was joyous.

  2. Ken says:

    Yes!! I hate the Kindle for the same reasons! Don’t get me wrong, I love gadgets, but there is nothing like holding a real book.

  3. Carrie says:

    I love books too. I like audio books when I am on the go but I just can’t do the e-reader thing. I like to have a page to turn.

  4. Terry says:

    once printed always committed – unlike “political” correcting on digital.

  5. sara says:

    I love the convenience of digital readers, but I hate telling someone about a great book I read without being able to loan it to them.

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