Words on a device “have no materiality, they are only shadows, and when the light shifts they’ll be gone,” Mr. Gass writes. “Off the screen they do not exist as words. They do not wait to be reseen, reread; they only wait to be remade, relit.”
Books, and the libraries that house them, are accessible to all types, incomes and ages, presenting an eternal and eternally changing opportunity for discovery that Mr. Gass contrasts unfavorably to the Internet (“the interbunk”). He talks about how books are passed down through generations, like his 1923 copy of Ben Jonson’s commonplace book, acquiring marginalia and emotional resonance. And he celebrates a book’s stimulus for reminiscence as “more important than a dance card, or the photo that freezes you mid-teeter at the edge of the Grand Canyon”:
“A book can be a significant event in the history of your reading, and your reading (provided you are significant) should be an essential segment of your character and your life,” he writes. “Unlike the love we’ve made or meals we’ve eaten, books congregate to form a record around us of what we’ve fed our stomachs or our brains. These are not a hunter’s trophies but the living animals themselves.”
So it comes as rather a surprise to learn that Mr. Gass has written a 15,000-word essay called “Abstractions Arrive: Having Been There All the Time,” a collaboration with the noted photographer Michael Eastman, that can be read only on an iPad equipped with iBooks 2. Abstractions Arrive is published for $4.99 a copy by Stephen Schenkenberg, who runs the excellent Reading William Gass blog. (Every serious writer should have such an informative blog; few do.) It is not available in any other format.
Needing special equipment to read something seemed to go against everything Mr. Gass was defending in his “Defense.” In an interview, he explained how his thinking about technology had shifted over the last decade.
Read the interview at The New York Times