By Jessica Barzilay
Some of the major milestones of my life are tangled up with memories of my favorite books. From the excitement of learning to read Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” to the anticipation with which I awaited the release of the final installment in the Harry Potter series, each phase of my life is characterized by one or two outstanding reads.
“The Boxcar Children and the Mystery of the Purple Pool” traveled 3,000 miles with me during my family’s move from New York to California right before I began kindergarten. At age 11, I discovered the magical world of “The Song of the Wanderer,” a book which recalls the excitement of one of my first book reports. Revisiting “Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism” takes me back to the beginning of Harvard-Westlake, a new chapter of my life to fill with adventures as wild as Molly’s. And finally, sitting in the backseat of the car, “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” accompanied me up and down the California coast the summer before high school. Which is why, last week when I learned that the Barnes and Noble near my house is closing, along with several hundred other locations of the famous bookstore, I felt nothing but sadness.
For millennia, civilization has relied on the written word as a means of communication, education and documentation. The art of writing is central to our society. When the details of a major news event are posted online within seconds of its occurrence, there is significantly less of a dependence on the next morning’s newspapers for facts. When the entire collected works of Shakespeare are abailable free of charge on the iPad, the monetary value of the Bard’s works has litterally decreased to nothing. My greatest concern, however, is for the next generation.
Already, the climate for learning has been completely altered as a result of advanced technology and a declining dependence on print. Without the local Barnes and Noble, where would I have happily stumbled upon the crowd of bespectacled, wand-wielding and scar-bearing enthusiasts on the night of the release of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”? Pixels and screens are replacing words and pages, but the two are far from interchangeable.
Books have warned us of the impending danger of advanced science; Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” and George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” seemed to be purely science fiction dystopias at the time of their publication.
I acknowledge the reality of life in 2010: there is no way and no need to eliminate technology from our lives. My only wish is that progress does not come at the cost of history, that we can salvage books and Barnes and Nobles and that the digital does not entirely supplant the tangible.