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Home / Brunch / Thank god for the printing press!

Thank god for the printing press!

Without it, nothing else would have been possible. There would have been no books, no iPads or even Xboxes! Sanjay Chopra writes about why we love books.

brunch Updated: Feb 02, 2013 18:40 IST
Sanjay Chopra
Sanjay Chopra
Hindustan Times

Reading makes immigrants out of us, it takes us away from our comfort zones Many people predicted the demise of books. It hasn’t happened yet

TOPIC: Why we love books

What would you say has been man’s greatest invention in the last thousand years? Would you say electricity, computers or rockets? The iPhone or the Xbox? Your guess would be wrong. Experts believe that the numero uno invention has been the printing press. Its creation made all these others possible. Books became easily available and people became literate. Back in 15th century Europe, before printing came along, a 500-page book may have cost the same as a small house! Thank God we live in a time where we don’t have to choose between reading and housing!

SanjayBooks are a parallel universe in which you might be a newcomer but never a stranger. One may discover that like Robinson Crusoe, one is not alone on the island. As you wander the world through books, you may trawl the streets of Victorian London with Oliver Twist, walk the steps to the guillotine with Sydney in A Tale Of Two Cities, fly in a bomber over Ger-many, attend a class in Hogwarts with Harry Potter, read a new recipe, perfect your golf swing or learn about the mating rituals of tribals. Even though reading for pleasure is fast being replaced by reading for purpose, I think a business executive might learn far more from Catch-22 than from a dozen books on management.

Reading makes immigrants out of us, nomads rather; it takes us away from our comfort zones, our truths, our rigidity and our homes and finds new homes for us everywhere. The delight may be vicarious but it makes you forget time and simply bask in the present. Books are the means to immortality: the characters never truly die. Through them we experience other times, other places, other lives. When Brad Pitt tells Eric Bana in the film Troy that “there are no pacts between lions and men”, he is speaking Achilles’ exact words as Homer wrote them 2,000 years ago.

I’m often asked: what should I read? Read what gives you joy... and do so shamelessly. Experiment. Even if you’re a rare person who is delighted by the classics, don’t make them your steady diet, any more than you would eat at elegant restaurants every day.

I can’t get people who are not readers. They just can’t seem to tear themselves away from the great ‘glass teats’ – TV and computers. Sure you can get entertainment and information from both. But can they ever match the soul-satisfying experience of a book? The glossy look, the feel of its spine, the scrape of fingers against the pages, the musky smell of print and the hidden promise. The aesthetic appeal of a stacked bookshelf.

paintMany people predicted the demise of books, particularly its death by microchip. It hasn’t happened yet.

The reason is simple: If all the nutrition of a meal could be packed in a pill , would you serve capsules and a glass of water for a family dinner? It’s not simply that we need information, but that we need to savour it, feel the heft of it. A laptop is portable but not companionable.

Having said that, I think reading off a screen is better than no reading at all. After all, Great Expectations is a BOOK whether on Kindle, iPad, iPhone, on a laptop or loose sheets of paper or a papyrus scroll!

Reading is addictive. Someone who has had ‘it’ a few times will want it again and want it enough to beg a friend to hide the damned BlackBerry for a couple of hours so they could finish the last pages.

Surrounded as we are by glitzy gadgets and gizmos, I still can’t think of a better gift for a child than a hard-bound, colour illustrated copy of Hansel and Gretel or Heidi. Can you?

Know the Writer
Sanjay, 46
Occupation: Pilot
Favourite cover story: Young India Rising (January 6) was impactful
What’s missing in Brunch? Insightful articles by new authors, like me! Also, features on little known getaways in India and abroad
If not a pilot? A writer... and since I am one now, it’s great
A quirk you have: I keep a compass (the geometry instrument to draw circles with) in my hand while reading. Don’t ask me why!

From HT Brunch, February 3

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