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Books: Still a window to world in our modern age

Last weekend I found the time to stop at the Marshall Lyon County Library’s book sale, something that always brings back memories.

When I was a kid and a teenager, one box was never enough to hold all the bargain books I’d purchase. I didn’t have just one favorite table. I liked almost everything.

I still have many of the books I bought back then. I own about 500 of them altogether. They’re interspersed on shelves in my living room, bedroom and study.

Believe it or not, I’ve read at least portions of almost all of them. I normally read five books at a time because I like to have a variety of daily reading experiences instead of getting bogged down on just one.

Reading is not a bad thing to have as a daily habit. A day almost doesn’t seem complete if I don’t spend an hour or two in my recliner enjoying books, old and new magazines, and several newspapers including those from my parents’ Marshall area hometowns.

I much prefer holding the material in my hand than sitting in a posture chair behind a computer and scrolling on a screen. By the same token, I prefer cards, dice and game boards to something electronic. I’ve sometimes said that I read real books and play real games.

Computers have never seemed real to me. I think part of it is that I didn’t grow up with them. I never did any word processing until Southwest Minnesota State University got its first computer-based writing lab in the late 1980s.

Another dimension is aptitude. I’ve never been a machine oriented person, probably would not even want to own a car if almost everything I needed could be within walking distance.

That’s why I’ve always liked my books. They’re solid. There’s substance and permanence that’s harder to perceive in an electronic format.

I’ve watched and wondered at how computer technology has changed the public mindset over the past generation.

Books are now often considered cumbersome. Hardly anybody uses a phone book anymore to look up a phone number or a dictionary to spell a word. Nobody consults a 20-plus volume set of encyclopedias.

I do enjoy searching for information with Google, along with using Facebook to stay in touch with family, friends and classmates. There are often instances, however, when I know of a book in my home library that will have what I want to find out.

Someone might ask why books and articles written in the 20th century or earlier are still relevant. I believe they are because they reflect perspectives of the time period, back when the subject matter was current.

What someone said in those time periods can often endure. One foremost example is the ancient Greek epic poet Homer, whose Iliad and Odyssey are still interpreted after many centuries.

There are a certain number of fiction and non-fiction classics that everyone should read. In learning from them we learn about humanity. We see ways that we came of age, how we advanced over many years into what we are in 2022.

I’m not sure how much of everything that gets posted electronically will endure. I’d like to think that the most insightful comments will be accessible to future researchers looking for primary sources. Hopefully the best personal accounts will be available for future generations of family members.

If it doesn’t happen, it would be because there’s such a huge volume of people using social media. Posts exist forever, but there’s a question of whether anyone in the future will have enough time to uncover them.

To at least some extent most people have lost the arts of letter writing, keeping a diary and storing photos in albums.

I think there’s some hope since many people still take an interest in card making, scrapbooking and other creative ways to showcase memories. These should be passed on in a family. It’s a shame when something ends up in a museum, an antique store or worse yet a landfill and no ever knows the personal story behind the object.

Just like we read the words of authors such as Homer, Shakespearre, Twain and many others; modern 21st century ideas should be read many years later. The greatest examples of insight or creativity should be enjoyed for many years by millions of readers.

— Jim Muchlinski is a longtime reporter and contributor to the Marshall Independent

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