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Farewell essay: On the love of paper and ink and glue, and words on a printed page.

December 16, 2011

Any number of topics presented themselves for what may be my last little essay here — it’s been a busy week in book land — but I’ve decided to mingle the elegiac with the celebratory.

Yes, I could have written about the latest atrocity by Amazon, a company that, astonishingly enough, seems to have less social and cultural conscience than Walmart, Destroyer of Towns.

I might have responded to this astonishingly wrongheaded Slate piece by Farhad Manjoo about how independent bookstores are “the least efficient, least user-friendly, and most mistakenly mythologized local establishments you can find,” and should just do us all a favor and die already.

Let me ask one simple question: How many author events did any Internet retailer sponsor last month? Books & Books, our local South Florida independent, sponsors 40 to 60, month in, month out. Otherwise, I’ll leave the field to novelist Richard Russo, whose New York Times op-ed on the subject Manjoo mocks without refuting.

And I might have written an appreciation of Christopher Hitchens, the great Anglo-American journalist and critic who died last night of cancer at age 62. I might have recalled how my admiration for his wit and eloquence were not diminished by my disgust at his intolerance toward religionists.

But I’ve already written that column, when I first heard of his illness, and besides, I knew the man only through his writing. I think you’ll get more out of this remembrance by his friend, Christopher Buckley, at the New Yorker website.

I might have eulogized the American-in-Paris bookseller, George Whitman, who died this week at age 98. He revived the landmark Paris bookstore Shakespeare & Co., and ran it for half a century. But my friend and erstwhile colleague Tom Swick, one of the best travel writers alive, has beaten me to it, with his customary elegance and insight.

And I might have written about the best books of 2011, but 1) I read fewer new books this year than usual, and 2) the ones I did read were for the most part unexceptional, and 3) I lost all interest in the subject, at least temporarily, when I opened the link to one such list and the very first novel mentioned was the absolute worst book I read this year.

No, I have chosen instead to leave you with a set of lovely quotes about reading, courtesy of the Huffington Post (which I have cheerfully maligned in this space upon every possible occasion), from some of our most interesting writers. I take the liberty of adding brief commentary on each one:

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” Joyce Carol Oates. Stuffy, but true.

“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.” Philip Pullman. Actually, thou shalt not has done quite well for itself these last 3,000 years, but he’s right about once upon a time.

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler). My favorite in this lot.

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” Oscar Wilde. Dear Oscar. He only posed as a decadent aesthete. At heart he was a moralist.

‘Be awesome! Be a book nut!” Dr. Seuss. Unimprovable.

“Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.” Neil Gaiman. I’m not certain of the metaphorical machinery at work here, but I think he means to say both are impossible.

“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” Henry David Thoreau. Since Thoreau died at 44, I wonder if he might have been prescient. On the other hand, how do you know which books are best before you read them? Of course: Critics!

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” James Baldwin. This is so sad and heartfelt and true that I have nothing whatsoever to add.

“Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” Mark Twain. Of course, Twain died more than a century ago. Today his formula would no doubt be: “An iPhone, a Starbucks, and a rocking Twitter account!”

I’d like to add another quote attributed to Twain, and which, interestingly enough, was recently tweeted by Mike Tyson: “The man who will not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”

Over the past two and a-half years I’ve argued, probably to a tiresome degree, for the importance of reading real books, made of paper and ink and glue and printed on an actual white page of paper. Electronic reading devices, while possibly increasing reading interest in the short term, will inevitably lead people toward functional illiteracy.

What fraction of the populace will put forth the effort to read when they can watch TV or movies or play video games on their portable devices?

Perhaps I am wrong. I fervently hope so.

I want to express my gratitude to the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, and especially its executive director, Alina Interian,  for generously providing this excellent platform for literary commentary these last two and a-half years, and for letting me write whatever I felt like. Thank you. It’s been more fun than I can say.

Please visit the Center’s websites, the Center@MDC and Miami Book Fair International for continuing updates on the many excellent programs and events.

Meanwhile, I trust we will meet soon at some other location in the shifting geography of this brave new world.

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36 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2011 1:50 pm

    Your blog will be missed! But I can’t wait to see what you turn to next. I have loved reading your blog, Chauncey Mabe and I’m looking forward to reading your future work, wherever it might turn up.

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    December 16, 2011 1:56 pm

    Thank you, for this, and for your insightful comments over the past two and a-half years.

  3. Joe Straub permalink
    December 16, 2011 2:55 pm

    So sorry I won’t get to read the blogs any nore, but I trust you’re moving on to better things. I have to say that I think books will be around for a long time for the same reason horses and sailboats are.

  4. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    December 16, 2011 3:36 pm

    Thanks, Joe. And I surely hope you are right.

  5. Charlyne Schaub permalink
    December 16, 2011 4:06 pm

    So sorry you won’t be blogging, Chauncey. I admire your wit and insight.

  6. December 16, 2011 7:20 pm

    Chauncey, I always enjoyed reading your unique perspective on the literary scene, and hope to see you popping up elsewhere soon,

  7. December 16, 2011 7:36 pm

    This has been one of my favourite places in the cybersphere. I’ll miss your articles.

  8. Sean Piccoli permalink
    December 16, 2011 7:56 pm

    It’s been a pleasure. You’re pretty good at this medium! I’m not tossing my Kindle yet, but no way letting go of my real books, either.

  9. December 16, 2011 10:41 pm

    I am saddened by the fact you are not going to greet me on a daily basis with your wonderful banter and criticism . I am also sorry I haven’t yet had the pleasure to meet you in person. The best of luck to you in your new endeavors.
    Patricia A. Zimmerman

  10. Marla permalink
    December 16, 2011 11:24 pm

    There are no words eloquent enough to express my sadness upon hearing about the end of this blog. Your insight, wit, wisdom and beautiful writing shall be missed. Of course, I have no doubt you will find another outlet for your talent. I’m so glad that other people in this world feel a need to actually have a book in hand … it’s like opening a present … with many, many surprises inside. I’ll always prefer to read this way and I concur with the need for Independent BOOKSTORES! And my hat is off to you, everyone at Books & Books, FLCT, Hitchens and Thoreau! THANK YOU!

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 17, 2011 10:43 am

      Thank you all for the kind words. Perhaps this blog will be revived at some point in the future. In any case, I look forward to meeting you somewhere soon — on line, in print, in person.

  11. danny permalink
    December 17, 2011 12:20 am

    will miss this blog, for sure. Well done, sir. and BRAVO…. now my last comment!

    Christopher Hitches is dead at 62. Or is he?

    by Dan Bloom

    When world hero artist Christopher Hitchens died recently, the global
    television screens and newspaper headlines proclaimed “Christopher
    Hitchens, dead at 62.”

    But the way we report deaths on TV and in print papers seems
    out-dated, in some way. Why give in to the commercial death business
    (as well as the religious death business) and even
    use words like death and dies? Why don’t we begin to use a better word
    as a marker to mark a man or a woman’s three score and ten here on
    Earth?

    This blogger made a list of some words that might fit better and he
    wonders what you, dear reader, think of them. Perhaps you could add
    some words or suggestions in
    the comments section here (below) — and not ”six feet under” but
    just a few centimeters below.

    So instead of the TV announcers and newspaper headline writers saying
    or writing “Christopher Hitchens, dead at 62,” how about saying
    something in the future as an alternative such as: “Christopher
    Hitchens, transformed at 62″ – ‘Christopher Hitchens, morphed at 62″ –
    ‘Christopher Hitchens, matrixed at 62″ – ‘Christopher Hitchens,
    returned at 62″ – ‘Christopher Hitchens, retrieved at 62″ –
    ‘Christopher Hitchens, reunioned at 62″– ‘Christopher Hitchens,
    realigned at 62″ — ‘Christopher Hitchens, hitched at 62″
    –‘Christopher Hitchens, sent off at 62″ — ‘Christopher Hitchens,
    reintegrated at 62″ — ‘Christopher Hitchens, sayonara’d at 62″ —
    ‘Christopher Hitchens, atomized at 62″ — ‘Christopher Hitchens,
    starlit at 62″ — ‘Christopher Hitchens, energized at 62″ —
    ‘Christopher Hitchens, archived at 62″ — ‘Christopher Hitchens,
    completed at 62″ — ‘Christopher Hitchens, finalized at 62″ —
    ‘Christopher Hitchens, regurgitated at 62.”

    A friend in Canada suggests “Christopher Hitchens, composted at 62.”
    And she also suggests “Christopher Hitchens, angelized at 62″ (adding
    that Hitch probably would not have liked that one so much, but that he
    might have seen the sense of humor involved in such a term).

    What other words might fit in the future? Suggestions welcome, pro and con.

    And remember this, or at least, this blogger does: ”Death be not
    proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art
    not so!”

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 17, 2011 10:41 am

      Interesting, but I cannot help but imagine that Hitchens would be appalled. As a writer, he strove always for rigor and clarity, and thus would have rejected all of these suggestions as obfuscatory and cowardly euphemisms. As a thinker he likewise prized clarity in service of the search for truth. Dead is dead. Let us say so and embrace the reality of human existence.

      But I recognize the humor and good cheer in these suggestions, so let me not be too crotchety about it. Thank you for the kind words. Readers like you have made this blog work these past two and a-half years.

  12. December 17, 2011 11:44 pm

    Will miss your “crochety” soul as well as your delicous erudition, and propensity for telling me something wonderful that I ddn’t know before. Here’s to real live books – forever. May you go forth on an endless jouney of discovery and joy.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 18, 2011 2:27 am

      Bless your heart, Emily. That’s close to the kindest thing anyone’s ever said. to me.

  13. December 18, 2011 5:52 pm

    Damn, I thought you were forever, Chauncey. Can’t believe I won’t be able to surf your blog for articles to reprint in SHJ. Everything seems to be evolving toward some depressing end, be it this blog or this country or this entire world.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 19, 2011 4:17 pm

      What rough beast, eh, Duff?

      • December 19, 2011 5:02 pm

        The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity, Chauncey.

  14. Duane Allicock permalink
    December 19, 2011 6:00 am

    Mr. Mabe, it was indeed a pity to learn of the ending of your blog in the same manner that it was discovered; by my accidentally stumbling across it more than a year and a half ago. Quite a few of your entries were made the subject of discussions with friends, family and even a few instructors at my university here in Trinidad. Often times I was amused and entertained, but foremost, always taught, many times introduced to authors and material I’d not even heard of (I am indebted to you for directing me to Scott Turow’s novels) and that is a gift which is worth its weight in platinum.
    I’ll join the chorus of those who’ve already acknowledged that it will be disappointing to see you go, but do hope to see your musings and commentary somewhere again. A personal regret I shall also have to live with is that in the many months of reading your blog, this shall likely be my first and last comment on any of your posts, and that awareness does make me feel sad to say the least.
    Best wishes with all of future endeavours, literary and otherwise, and of all the quotes featured about reading, I’d have to state my preference for the one by James Baldwin. Thank you again sir for your insight, humour and most importantly just sharing your knowledge.

    Duane Allicock – a fan and follower, Trinidad and Tobago

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 19, 2011 4:19 pm

      Thanks, Duane. Very kind of you to say. There is a slim chance this blog may be revived at some point in the future. If not, the entries already posted should stay up indefinitely, where new readers can find them.

  15. December 19, 2011 8:00 am

    I’ve been a silent and occasional reader but over and over I’ve come back. I’ll miss your voice. Somehow, keep us in the know for what lies in your future.

  16. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    December 19, 2011 4:20 pm

    I’ll do my best. Thank you so much for stopping buy. Best wishes.

  17. Amy permalink
    December 19, 2011 9:26 pm

    What??? I read every word you wrote! We’re linked through Connie O., my bff, and I’ve seen you at the Book Fair. Had no idea this was coming to an end, and am very sad about it. Jeez. Loved every minute of it. So sorry. What’s next for you?

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 26, 2011 4:27 pm

      Don’t know yet. But I’ll keep you posted.

  18. December 21, 2011 2:54 pm

    Thank God for people like you who relentlessly profess the qualities of seeking knowledge in the most obvious yet overlooked places in hopes of benefiting the digital hoards of societally-encumbered minds.

    Where I would be if it were not receiving the indirect benefits of your direct efforts, I do not like to reflect upon.

    Thank you.

  19. December 21, 2011 3:46 pm

    What the hell?
    I go away for two weeks and this is what you do when I am not looking?
    Damn it all…there goes yet another excuse not to write. Just when you had moved ahead of “What Not to Wear” reruns and folding laundry and were pushing hard at the Daily Dish and Spider Solitaire.

    Grrrr. Let me know if you alight anywhere new. Happy trails, friend.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 26, 2011 4:25 pm

      Thanks, PJ.

  20. January 4, 2012 7:16 pm

    Sorry to see you go, especially because I only just stumbled acorss this blog (and linked it to my own). I wish you and it and its sponsor had had more promotion. Goof luck.

  21. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    January 5, 2012 4:47 pm

    Thank you, me too.

  22. January 11, 2012 11:16 am

    Thank you for this gift of a branching path of links to follow. Even though I too love paper, ink, glue, I think the fact that you can send us leaping to things wrong-headed or moving shows that fundamentally it’s the words, on pages printed or electronic, that link two minds, reader and writer, across time and distance.

    I feel, as I’ve told you before, that this format freed you up to say what you want as a commentator, columnist, reporter, reviewer, advocate, denouncer, provacateur, and friend to readers. I hope that you will find another such forum if this one indeed is done. Whatever it is, wherever it is, I want to read what you have to say.

    • January 11, 2012 2:09 pm

      I’m with Lynne when she says “I want to read what you have to say.” So I hope you’ll keep us in the loop, Chauncey.

  23. January 13, 2012 5:15 am

    I dreaded reading this, so I stayed away for a while. I knew it was coming, but that doesn’t diminish my sense of loss.

    Happy trails, Chauncey!

  24. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    March 25, 2012 10:44 pm

    Thanks, Button. Many thanks

  25. August 16, 2012 11:59 am

    Why “last”? I’ve just discovered your blog, it’s a bad time for you to go.
    http://www.marthamoffett.com

  26. March 25, 2013 9:31 pm

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