My family hasn't had a proper vacation in years, so earlier this week we packed up the car and drove to Savannah. It's only seven-or-so hours north, but an entire world away in terms of history. South Florida is a place of constant development, where roads are always being repaved and anything circa 1950 is considered ancient. Savannah's a different story. It has guttering, gas-fed streetlamps, row houses built of a brick whose recipe was lost long ago and byways paved with worn cobbles. It's a joy to wander there, and while doing so I've paused every now and again to pull an out-of-print hardcover from my coat and read a paragraph underneath oaks that drip Spanish moss.
The book is cracking good, part adventure, part doomsday scenario, part primer on situation ethics. But I find I'm enjoying the physicality of the volume as much as the narrative it contains. A second printing borrowed through interlibrary loan, it has a much-creased spine proclaiming a faded title. The corners have begun a slow surrender to wear, paper peeling up and away from the thick cardboard beneath. The odor of dust wafts up from ragged-edged, yellowing pages, a scent as old as time.
I am not a romantic. I know that ebooks are the proverbial wave of the future, that they will largely wash away the need for loaning libraries and the very idea of out-of-print titles. We will have everything we want and more with the shuffling of bits and bytes over WiFi, and I cannot pretend that this is not progress. After all, I have an iPod and do not mourn the death of LPs and 8-tracks. Nor do I mind exchanging the jostling of cobbles for asphalt or flickering gas lights for electric. But I walk around this beautiful city where so much of the archaic remains and think of what we give up to gain. It's easy to forget that there's a trade at all.
(Picture: CC 2008 by UGArdener)