Sometimes those who spruik or want to evangelise about ebooks act as if those of us who prefer books on paper have something to defend. I would not want to add fuel to this fire, besides the fact that the issue is not an either/or proposition. But one lovely thing about browsing a physical library, especially one’s own, is noting the little correspondences, resonances and linkages that in electronic format would simply be prescriptive (“if you like this, you’ll love…”). For example, I was flipping through my copy of Robert Hass’s (above) book of essays What Light Can Do, looking for something on Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz (below) the other day and noted that Hass had actually translated Milosz’s American poetry collection. Something I suppose google could have told me rather quickly, but there is something about this kind of random perusing that runs counter to the efficiency obsessed culture that wants everything at the click of a button, and that therefore feels like a guilty pleasure, but is actually a necessary part of imbibing a literary sensibility, if that is not too pretentious a way of putting it. To use a different but related example, we head for libraries either to pick up something already in mind but also to just browse, and finding something unexpectedly is an important part of the experience.
Milosz is someone I have come across by way of Thomas Merton and Clive James, two names otherwise not usually linked. These threads that run through a culture of literature, that make for an often invisible web, are one explanation for the pleasure of reading, beyond but not irrelevant to the worth of individual books.