The book is a very sensual thing. Not the wording within, but the object itself; binding and paper and fonts and ink; the tactile pleasure of the page; the scent of leather binding or musty age; the beauty of textual display. Books are romantic, and dying, a casualty of the virtual age.
In my real life, I am exposed to books all day. As a graduate student, I take out library books, grade essays, sift through archival letters, occasionally touch ancient scrolls, and print countless articles from academic databases. The print format is integral to my daily life. I recognized that the aesthetics of a document is important ever since realizing that I was more likely to give a well-formatted paper a higher mark, despite its content deserving of a lesser grade. Presentation matters. It is the package that initially draws an audience to your ideas.
One of the reasons that I have been so absent of late is that I am a book review editor for an academic journal, and have been scrambling to get everything finished by publication date. The co-editors and I discuss every colon or semi-colon, margin, font, double or single quotation mark, and overall layout of each article and review. It is not even a print journal; we switched to an exclusively online publication last year.
Much is gained with this new format – exposure, readership, and financial savings – but something is also lost. I cannot put my nose to the freshly printed paper and inhale the product of such hard work. It is somewhat anti-climatic, only because it does not feed my particular paper fetish.
I am not alone. Another benefit of the virtual age is that one can find like minds on any topic, even books and paper, with forums dedicated to bemoaning the loss of print format while using the causality of this loss to communicate their laments. Oh internet, how I love and hate you.