The book—the most wondrous of all man’s instrument


I love tools. There is something about well made tools that just feels right. They fit your hands, they work better and smoother. They are just right. And I love to have the right tool for the job. Nothing is more frustrating than not having the right tool available when you need it. Books are the right tool too. Consider the book, it needs no energy source; is portable; a book can go from the bedroom to the beach; they don’t change; books are durable and reliable.

Humans are an inventive lot, especially with our tools. And we invent some really good things. Consider this quote from Jose Luis Borges:

“Of all man’s instruments, the most wondrous, no doubt, is the book. The other instruments are extensions of his body. The microscope, the telescope, are extensions of his sight; the telephone is the extension of his voice; then we have the plow and the sword, extensions of the arm. But the book is something else altogether: the book is an extension of memory and imagination.”

I happen to think we hit the nail on the head, so to speak, with the book. It is indeed a very appropriate technology. Man needed a way to store and disseminate knowledge. After some research and development work we came up with paper and ink. Paper you say, is much too fragile. And inks fade. It will never work. But work it has. Turns out, when paper is stacked and fastened together it becomes remarkably durable. Witness the Gutenberg Bible.

There are many examples of where the book is just the perfect tool for the job. Take reading in bed. Clay tablets just wouldn’t work. And can you imagine sitting a computer on your chest? A friend of mine talks about falling asleep reading a book. From her description, this is how I imagine it happens. She falls asleep, the book rests on her face for a while, then slides off the bed to the floor. Next day, there is the book, on the floor, where she can pick it up and commence reading. Try that with a laptop and you will either wind up with a broken nose or a very expensive night’s sleep.

Books serve other purposes as well. Somehow I can’t imagine inscribing a family tree in the front cover of an electronic book. First of all, e-books don’t have front covers. And try using your computer to press flowers. And lastly, I’m reminded of my freshman year college Calculus book. I tried so desperately hard to glean all of the information out of that book. I pored and I pondered and I studied. Eventually though, the book ended up holding up the couch in our apartment after a leg was broken off. It seemed much more useful there than having it bronzed as a monument to futility. Whatever use you put it to, come on in, notice the craftsmanship and check out a book.

About the author

Paul Paladino

Paul Paladino

Paul is the Montrose Library District Director