Managing Media

A guest link from Scott Simon in the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal

The Joy of Reading ‘Pinocchio’—On Paper

He’s a puppet-boy in a book my daughters run to find each morning, not digits in a download.

We blundered into the bookstore between the pizza place and the gelato spot while vacationing in Santa Rosa, Calif., one last little exploration before we put our daughters (and ourselves) to bed after a busy day.

Our children, who are 8 and 4, have grown up seeing bookstores burst with games, toys, coffee frappes, cards, crayons, banana muffins and, incidentally, books.

I understand. If I ran a bookstore these days, I’d sell radial tires to stay in business.

But Treehorn Books in Santa Rosa has no diversions. Mounds of used books—musty, musky books, well-thumbed and worn, teetering and tottering Tower-of-Pisa style—are the sole enterprise.

My wife and I thought we might browse briefly before our daughters clamored for the gelato next door. But they opened books respectfully, as if popping the top of a secret, ran their fingers over old illustrations gently, and asked if we knew the stories.

Among the books we brought back to our room was “Pinocchio,” a 1978 Illustrated Junior Library edition of Carlo Collodi’s 1883 classic, with illustrations by Fritz Kredel. The book’s inside cover is signed (in cursive—already dating it), “Dorothy Santos.”

We opened Dorothy Santos’s old book that night. We have been stretching out and savoring it, chapter by chapter, every day since.

Pinocchio, of course, is a puppet that wants to be a boy, carved by a kindly, lonely man who craves the love of a child. Pinocchio, almost refreshingly, is the kind of boy who would be bad for any of the Disney Princesses. He wants to get rich quick through tricks instead of work. He rejects those who truly love him to dally with those who want only to use him.

Nowadays, the Blue Fairy might tell Pinocchio, “You are wood, and you are good! Get some self-esteem!” But the 1883 Pinocchio blames only himself for being a silly, churlish and disobedient “blockhead.” And yet, how can you not love the way a little boy’s spirit fights to get out of a piece of wood?

The other morning, our daughters woke up clamoring to hear Pinocchio before breakfast. I’m not one of those who vows to always cling to the printed page. Before we left for California, I topped off my iPad with a dozen new titles. I accost strangers on airplanes to show them how dandy it is to load thousands of pages (including this newspaper) onto something the size of a shirt cardboard.

But part of the connection our daughters make with Pinocchio seems to be that he’s a little puppet-boy in a book they hold, hide and run to find in the morning, not digits in a download.

My wife says that she can sense a buzz of conversation whenever she enters a room with books, with books of different colors and sizes seeming to speak to and recommend each other.

Online sites recommend a lot, too. If you buy Philip Levine’s haunting 1992 collection of poems, “What Work Is” (timely not just because the author is now poet laureate of the U.S. but because of lines like, “somewhere ahead / a man is waiting who will say / “No, we’re not hiring today”) you’ll see buy buttons for Mr. Levine’s other books and those of other poets and writers whose themes or mere titles some software judges to be similar.

But part of the beauty of books on shelves is that they seem to talk across the aisles: Histories talk to poetry, which call to thrillers, which shout over to sports, which roar at the dramas.

One of the books on a stack that called to me in that store was a collection by John Updike, “Due Considerations: Essays and Criticism,” which features a 2000 essay in which Updike, who died of cancer in 2009, presciently accepts the imminence of hand-held reading devices but laments the loss of books as physical things:

“Books waiting to be read, as tempting as grapes unharvested and musky, years to be blown off in a second of sudden plucking. . . . One’s collection comes to symbolize the contents of one’s mind, reminders of moments, of stages in a pilgrimage. . . . Books preserve, daintily, the redolence of their first reading—the beach, that apartment, that attack of croup, that flight to Indonesia.”

I am sure that soon there will be nifty new animated e-Pinocchios who can sing like Andrea Bocelli and move like Mikhail Baryshnikov. I’m sure I’ll get those for my daughters, too.

But I’m glad to have this summer memory of exploring a mound of old books, finding Pinocchio, and bringing him home. Among all the bosh and piffle I have gotten our daughters this summer—twinkling plastic princess crowns, fade-away flower tattoos, and purple bathtub fizzies—the old books we have bought seem to touch them with the idea that other children have held and loved those stories, too.

We read Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” next.

Mr. Simon, host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, is the author of “Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other” (Random House, 2010).

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