Champagne and the Purpose of Books
A new issue by the University of California Press entitled, "The Finest Wines of Champagne: A Guide to the Best Cuvees, Houses and Growers," and written by Michael Edwards represents the things I love most about that civilizing relic we call the "Book".
While a paperback in form, the book is sturdy, making it durable, yet portable. Inside the pages are thick and have a coating that delivers a sheen and, more importantly, hold and display the ink beautifully. The layout of the book is perfect—what should be in its place is there, topics flow intuitively from one to another just the way they should, and the navigational shorthand common to books, the contents and the index, are where they should be, instantly accessible and contain everything I think I might need.
"The Finest Wines of Champagne is a beautiful book. And yet, it remains a book.
Recently Amazon reported that when available in a Kindle version, a 35% of a book's sales on Amazon are sold in this digital format.
I don't own a Kindle.
It used to be that I obtained nearly all my foundational knowledge about wine from books. But this was a long time ago. Today, I rarely pick up a wine book other than to pass the time and out of curiosity. I can find most of what I need and want to know on the Internet. And yet, my house is strewn with books. I looked around and counted the number of real books that are in the process of being read or sitting out to remind me they are next. There were 20 of them. I have no idea when I'll get to them.
I think the book is going away as a significant delivery vehicle for knowledge. This makes me sad. Not because I think it will mean the demise of knowledge or learning, but because that item we call the book is something I've always loved and something that has always kept me company in a way that a glaring screen or handheld devise cannot do.
"The Finest Wines Champagne" is a perfect example of why a good book, constructed well, appeals to me. It is an in-depth look at the history, quirks and unique qualities of various Champagne houses and the people behind them. The author clearly is writing from a well of knowledge that he has received first hand and after much research. It's a book one can sit down and read straight through as if taking in a well crafted story and it is a book one can pick up, stop at an entry, and enjoy the ride from there. It also feels good to hold in your hand. It's weighty and well crafted. It looks from the outside like good information is waiting for me on the inside.
I was one of those curious, if not odd, children that found great fascination with the Encyclopedia Britannica that my parents had purchased along the way and displayed in the built-in bookshelves in our Family Room in Novato, California where I grew up. I think they were placed there out of a sense of obligation by my parents who, like so many parents of that era, believed that a good set of encyclopedia was necessary for a child's educational pursuits. They were right.
And yet, outside of the books of ritual that my father studied for his Masonic pursuits and with the exception of the novels he would read when bedridden at times, I don't remember him being much of a reader at all. I don't ever recall my mother sitting with a book. But still I loved the Encyclopedia Britannica on the shelves and they gave me a love of books. When I started reading them, beginning with the "A" volume, the books sat too high on the shelves for me to reach. I needed to pull over the wooden chair in the corner to get my hands on them. It seems odd that books bought for the children would be placed out of reach. Still, I got my hands on them.
"The Finest Wines of Champagne" has an encyclopedic quality to it. It is a compendium of the best things Champagne organized by serious introductions, then by producers and by region, and then finally by statistics in the back along with entry on what we might best eat while consuming Champagne. It works. And it reminds me of the Encyclopedic volumes that side up on the shelves in my home.
I didn't read every entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica. But I did go page by page, occasionally stopping to read an entry that interested me. I began at around 9 years of age. So while I like to think that even at that young age I had a broad range of interests, the fact is I probably spent much more time consuming Dinosaurs under "D", Baseball under "B", Indians under "I", World War II under "W" and Ghosts under "G".
I did go through all the volumes; page by page while sitting on the brown couch that backed up to the wall sized windows looking out on to our patio. My father would sometimes walk through the room, stop, and ask "where are you?" I'd look down at the page and tell him, "Mollusks". If he didn't have an interest in "Mollusks", he'd keep going to where ever it was he was going on his way through the Family Room.
"The Finest Wines of Champagne" is part of a new collection of "Field Guides" that the University of California Press is issuing. A second volume in this series, equally handsome to the Champagne edition, is "The Finest Wines of Tuscany and Central Italy" by Nicholas Belfrage MW. Each retails for $35.
Both these volumes will go onto my book shelf in my office where I keep my modest collection of wine information packaged in archaic form. There are about sixty or so such dinosaurs ranging from atlases to regional guides to volumes of reviews to investigations of particular varieties of grapes.
I have another shelf of books in my sitting room as well as boxes of books packed away. Though I do read from books on a fairly regular basis, knowledge and entertainment isn't what my sitting room collection is there for. I've already read them all, some more than once. Those books are on display for me. They remind me where I've been, the things that interest me, of the people that inspire me and who I've become. But I don't have a set of Encyclopedia Britannica on those shelves.