A Reflection Of Books

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of seeing artist Makoto Fujimura speak on the work he was commissioned to do in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. His talk and the one preceding it by art historian Professor John Walford of Wheaton College had a profound impact on how I now see art. Seeing isn’t even the right word, something more like experiencing would be better.

Throughout the presentations, speakers would describe the materials that went into a work and often apologize for the disservice a projected image did to the work itself. It seems obvious now, but there’s no substitute for seeing the work in person and experiencing its totality as it was meant to be experienced. Art is more than its reflected photons.

Before the speakers started, I was talking to a new friend about books and eBook readers. It’s Hyde Park and we were at the University of Chicago Divinity School, so talking about books is completely natural! Anyway, we were going over the pros and cons of eBooks, in particular limitations on lending. And at the end, the fact that you cannot show off your collection to friends like you can with a real bookshelf. I had the impression that even increasingly inexpensive eReaders like the Kobo, were not going to win her over. In the end, to her a digital eBook was just a poor reflection of the real thing.

At some point it has to be realized that more mature readers like my friend Jan are not going to be sold on eBooks as long as they are pitched as some kind of replacement for the physical books she knows and loves. Just as immersive video games have to resist the temptation to imitate movies, so must eBooks resist the urge to ape physical books. eBooks are going to have to stand on their own as an entirely new medium for the expression of human thought and imagination. That imagination, coupled with technology, should soon give rise to something entirely new and beautiful.

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