A Valentine to Printed Books

chocolatecookiesHappy Valentine’s Day, dear readers! While some of us here are taking the day to celebrate our love of chocolate, I thought it appropriate to make this post a celebration of our love of books.

Specifically, printed books. (Despite, of course, the amazing digital options that Lerner is putting out into the world and the awesome opportunities those present. Moving along.)

I’m going to go out on a limb and say we’ve all had a surfeit of the print vs. digital debate—we all love the smell and feel of the printed pages; we agree it’s marvelous to carry around a whole library on an e-reader that fits in your purse; we like the heft of a hardcover; we enjoy the hands-free nature of reading a screen. Done.

I was surprised to learn recently that a friend of mine who frequently travels internationally for work–often taking just a small suitcase for a week or two–still takes printed books with her for all her reading material. Her reasoning was a bit different from most of the chatter, so I asked her to recap it for me. Here’s what she said:

Books are a precious resource that ask to be shared. As Americans, most of us have access to books that are low cost and readily available, and we may read them and then let them collect dusk on our bookshelves. So we forget about the value of books.

In my work, I spend a lot of time in the developing world, primarily in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, places where books are a luxury. Many people, including my friends and colleagues who live in these places, have very limited access to books, especially fiction. Most people only own a few print books, if any, which are very precious to them. Public libraries are few and have limited offerings. Books for sale are expensive since most are imported. There are organizations who are working to increase access to books and end this ‘book famine,’ including the Minnesota-based nonprofit Books for Africa.

With the focus on education, literacy rates are improving in many parts of the world. Readership is growing and it’s clear many people like to read. Unlike in the US, where print media seems to be on the decline, in many parts of the developing world, newspapers are everywhere and there is a growing demand for things to read!

I prefer to travel with print books so I can devour them during my trip (books are wonderful on long flights!) and then leave the books behind with coworkers and colleagues or staff working at the hotels where I stay, so they can be enjoyed by more people. By leaving the book behind, I feel I get to share a book (and a story) with others and am doing my small part to contribute toward ending the book famine.

Thanks to Lizz for her perspective! It kind of makes me want to go donate some books. And it kind of makes me love and appreciate books all over again.

What would your “valentine to books” be like?

P.S. If you need a Valentine’s Day sugar fix, here you go: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/The-History-of-Sweetheart-Candies.html