As a young girl, my grandmother would take me to pick out fabrics for the dresses she would sew for me to wear. My fingers loved to browse through bolts of soft cotton, rough tweeds, linear corduroys, and ethereal gauzes. I would hide within the racks, all the while feeling each pattern, each texture, each subtle pick of fiber.
I have a similar tactile sensation when reading books — the paper’s contour and weight, the curve or rigidity of the book’s perfect spine. To me, there’s nothing better than dog-earing a page to rediscover a favorite passage later, or jotting notes in the margins as the writer’s images provoke thoughts of my own.
Just as my grandmother spent hours pin tucking each pleat and pressing each seam to create a garment personalized for me, writers weave together words that become almost like a cloth — each image a color; each line a pattern; each page a unique garment. Often, my grandmother embroidered satin stitches and French knots onto the finished designs, adding her own twist to the original pattern. Often while reading, I’m moved to embellish the pages with my own musings. “Marginalia” can be found gracing hundreds (if not thousands) of pages in my book collection; but perhaps more interesting are those found in books owned by others, whether written by the hand of someone famous, or of a father in a note to his son, or a lover trying to convey feelings to another.
In today’s culture, digital publications are not only widespread, but also perhaps necessary. More writers can reach more readers through just a few clicks. But when I’m craving a total experience, a complete sensory immersion, for something to feel, nothing can compare to the books lining library shelves — tactile, wonderful creations that can be touched and dog-eared and written upon, becoming, over time, as significant a part of identity as the handmade, smocked pinafore.
Admittedly, this blog post has meandered from its original intent (which, incidentally, was to praise the printed book for its tactile beauty). But isn’t that what writing is supposed to do? To take the reader — and, in many cases, the writer — on an unexpected detour, to provide both hard and soft surfaces upon which her thoughts can land or bounce?