Opinion | Story of books’ survival a spirited read

The great 17th Century poet John Milton described a good book as “ the precious life-blood of a master spirit.”

Even in his day, books were unshakeable parts of the human existence regardless of the readers’ race, creed or nationality.

For people of my generation, books have faced many more challenges but have triumphed over competition from films, television, radio and magazines.

As soon as we learned to read, we devoured stories about imaginative characters like Noddy or Three Billy Goats Gruff and then graduated to heroes like Captain Johns’ Biggles or H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quartermain.

At high school and university we were taught how Henry Fielding, Daniel Defoe, Jonathon Swift and Samuel Richardson helped to forge the novel and then we began choosing our own favourite authors in our own favourite genres.

But in the 1970s, the biggest threat to books in history emerged in the form of the computer revolution which changed the way we lived and thought.

Books were on death row, said the new breed of technocrats, the IT specialists. It would only be a matter of time before the book was replaced by the Kindle or some similar electronic device and then be overwhelmed by Social Media blockbusters, Facebook and Twitter. Even the devout bibliophiles began to worry when it seemed this prediction would become true.

Then something strange happened. People around the world began to realise that books were something more than entertainment. They could also be friends to the lonely, reminders of happy or sad days, stepping stones in growing up or sentimental  momentoes of a relationship, an achievement or an unforgettable occasion. They could be companions on planes, trains, buses and cars; they did not require an electronic search to locate them and they did not need batteries. More importantly they connected us to the writer, making him and his story part of our lives.

Those who doubt this comeback should pop into the University of Newcastle Great Hall from August 5 to 12 and have a look at the Friends of the University biennial Book Fair. The previous fair, in 2015, made a near record $89,000 for student scholarships and readers will be queuing up again to get in on the opening Saturday this year. There will be more than 500,000 fiction and non-fiction books offered in an incredibly wide range of classifications including first editions and other collectors’ item.

ANOTHER PAGE: The Friends of the University's book fairs draw massive crowds.

ANOTHER PAGE: The Friends of the University's book fairs draw massive crowds.

Books can also be unforgettable parts of our history which should never be wiped off a screen. Inside the cover of a beautifully preserved copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland found by Book Fair workers the other day was this sad but heart-warming hand-written message:

To Gracie from Father and Mother on her seventh birthday. April 11, 1917. Brian Holme, East Parade, Mitcham, South Australia. Current Events, April 1917.

America about to enter the War.

German retreat from Bapamne.

Lloyd George Prime Minister.

Gracie’s brother born and died.

We all go to Victor Harbour.

Uncle Ted is a Captain now.

In a scratchy, unsteady hand is written the name “Gracie Jackson” and underneath, in the same hand as the main part of the message, is “Written by herself.”

You would never find that on a Kindle.

Vic Levi is a former journalist who lives in Lake Macquarie