OPINION | Books provide welcome relief from our plastic, IT world

A WALL OF RESISTANCE: Books are not yet extinct as dinosaurs, despite the almost-gleeful predictions by some over the past decades. To paraphrase Stephen Fry, books are no more threatened by kindles than stairs by elevators.
A WALL OF RESISTANCE: Books are not yet extinct as dinosaurs, despite the almost-gleeful predictions by some over the past decades. To paraphrase Stephen Fry, books are no more threatened by kindles than stairs by elevators.

Whenever I crave inspiration I always look right here to our own community.

Local heroes are to be found everywhere.

From people like Sharon Robertson who with Lions has been organising the Dilly Drought Drive, to Brian Laul organising last weekend’s Multicultural Children’s Festival at Koshigaya Park. And many more like them.

Big-hearted people, mostly volunteers, who make a difference. Offering a dose of conviction and generosity in a world craving both.

And very genuine.

Anyone who knows Brian, for example, knows that when he says he hopes his festival will “build inter-cultural friendships” you know that’s not slick spin, that's from the heart.

Well, one of Macarthur’s other little home-grown heroes this week is John Balcombe, who has erected a public “street library” where passers-by can pick up, or leave, a book from the front of his house in Berallier Drive, Camden. The service is free and no library cards are required.

As simple as it sounds, this is a revolutionary act, both in trust, and in encouraging literacy in a world that seems to be trying to dumb itself down, from its presidents to the scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel standards of reality TV.

In fact, books themselves are my “heroes”.

They are the ultimate disruptor of the IT age. The rebel. The fly in the ointment. The survivor. 

Books, you see, were supposed to be gone by now, swept away by Kindles and tablets. Yet here they are, with a steady bounce-back sales figures being recorded around the world.

How? “Screen fatigue” is often cited as the reason.

With a book you can feel and smell the paper, admire the cover artwork, flip the pages back and forth easily; all the senses are activated.

You can also turn the most treasured of your good-quality books into a visual household wall of keepsakes that perhaps also reveals something about you.

As you can see by my own bookshelf, I’m not much into fiction or fantasy (I’ve seen too much of that covering politics), but I do love Australian history, biography, art and lyrics...from The Beatles to Banjo Paterson...photography and the bush. 

I suspect the resilience of books is due to not just a general craving for quality in a world of plastic, for peace in a world of noise, but also a craving for reality. Virtual books are as real as virtual friends, virtual experiences or virtual relationships.

The rebel. The fly in the ointment. The survivor.

That’s not to completely reject online experiences – sometimes Kindles are very handy, and where would any wannabe researcher or historian be without Trove or Project Gutenberg Australia (magnificent). I just think there's room for both.

And, I admire any (intelligent) disruption. 

Wordsmith George R.R. Martin says a mind needs a book as a sword needs a whetstone – to keep its edge.

I think it’s broader than that, as the world falls into the hands of populist dictators, PC revisionists and religious fundamentalists, book are barricades of freedom.

As the late Kurt Vonnegut wrote in 2005: “And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who…have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves.”

A free press, a free ABC, and a free people able to protest are part of the same circle. So your bookshelf is more than just a bookshelf. Love it with pride.