Champagne and the Purpose of Books

FinestWines 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 toEncb 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.

13 Responses

  1. Marcia - October 13, 2009

    Today is an excellent example of a “book” day with the season’s first big storm and blustery winds. It just screams for curling up with a good book by a fire. (Can’t really envision curling up with a good Kindle. How cold and artificial.) Part of the experience is, as you said, the tactile nature of the paper and ink – glossy or an uncoated felt finish with a ragged edge. Very David Copperfield-ish. And how the light hits the paper with its convex curve from the edge into the shadow by the spine. Kindles (and similar) just don’t nestle into the palm of the hand. The surface texture never changes. The pages can’t be dog-earred or fanned through.
    Books may be going by way of the Dodo bird, but I sure hope it’s very, very slow so that we don’t see them on the endangered species list. The internet may hold an enormous repository of daily reading material, but it doesn’t help much when you’ve already had 5 brownouts before noon…today!

  2. Thomas Pellechia - October 13, 2009

    I’ve had to reconstruct a room in my home that is the library because of so many books that needed shelves. We built shelving into the walls, and we did it with the other anachronism–wood.
    Just sitting in the library, reading or not, gives off a warmth that is unrivaled by my office where the computer is.
    Two of my books are sold on Amazon’s Kindle, but I hope they are used as a tease to get a hold on the actual books.

  3. The Wine Mule - October 13, 2009

    Books don’t crash. Books don’t get viruses. Books don’t require an operating system update. Books don’t need to be within range of a WiFi network. Books don’t require batteries. Books don’t suddenly disappear from the shelf because the publisher objects to a text-to-speech feature. Books are quite something, really.

  4. Charlie Olken - October 13, 2009

    I guess it is old-fashioned of me to think that there is nothing special about a “book”. They are simply a part of my life. One can look up almost anything on the Internet–and yet you can also look for hours and not find what you want.
    This book, which also arrived today for me, is a demonstration why complex matter is better in books than on the Internet or even on Kindle. One can flip through the pages of this book, from producer to producer, from region to region, from map to map in far less time than one could using the Internet.
    But, here is the thing. This kind of depth and richness is simply not available on the internet. Someday, when we all have screens that will hold ten pages and move with lightning speed, of the type that is simply not possbible today, maybe books like this one will be obsolete.
    Not so today, and I absolutely second what Tom has said about the Champagne book particularly. The Tuscan book, while in the same mold, is less immediate, perhaps because the names in it are less immediate and because I drink dozens of bottles of bubbly for each bottle of wine from Tuscany.
    I am also impressed by the amazing quality of these books. At $35, they are not cheap, but these days, one gets a lot less than full color on almost every page with pictures of people, places and maps that bring the wineries and places to life.
    Yes, it is a book, but it is more than that. It is an experience, a treasure that only its medium can provide. I find nothing new in that. I may have too much wine, but, even though I have hundreds and hundreds of books, I have never felt I have too many.

  5. Iris - October 14, 2009

    Thanks for your article, Tom – once again, it hits my feelings! Same experience with the encyclopedia – even if it was a much smaller one, as in my after war childhood in Germany, there were not to much walls and shelves left, to store a 20 volume one (and not to much paper for their edition). It was a one volume one from A – Z – outdated 60 years later, but one of the books I took, when I had to empty my parents apartment.
    Ever since, I have been reading and collecting books as soon as I earned enough money, to buy the ones you like to keep – food for thought, cook-books for diet periods (to nourish at least my fantasy – books about wine all over the world, when I started to discover what has become my profession in the meantime – and even if I spend more time in front of my computer, reading news and information on-line today (it’s such a progress, to find (nearly) everything on a click while sitting in the woods, far from the next library), I still spend my best moments cuddled in my sofa and go through the pages of one of my beloved ones, enjoy the physical pleasure to be in touch with it – even smell the scent of old paper, leather or fresh inc – it’s like tasting a wine – I prefer it in a nice glass than in a plastic gobelet…

  6. Francesco - October 14, 2009

    Books have always fascinated me since I was a child. The look, the feel,the sound,the smell of a book excite me for some reason. The smell of fresh new book has to be one of my favorite smells. I cant believe no one has mentioned the smell of brand new book, considering how many wine lovers have probably read this piece! These are things that you cant experience over a cpu screen. Even magazines have this same effect on me Every flip of the page is like starting a new journey.

  7. Dissertation Help - October 14, 2009

    Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

  8. Hary - October 14, 2009

    Nice Post…I likes books

  9. [email protected] - October 14, 2009

    Another important quality for books – they capture a moment in time. When researching wine topics, it is not possible to find everything you need on the Internet. But in books written 20, 30, 50 or more years ago, you can get an exact read on specific places and topics – history that is otherwise lost forever.

  10. Dylan - October 14, 2009

    Tom, I very much enjoyed the post. I’ve never read a book review which also reviewed the physical structure of the book, but that must speak to how thorough this was on your part.

  11. Scott K - October 16, 2009

    Hi Tom…I caught this post a few days late. I probably would not have decided to comment if it weren’t for the fact that the comments were so one-sided. I happen to be a reader, a lover of books. How-tos, classics, pop-culture fics, bios, coffee-table books…whatever. I spend time with them, speed up and slow down in my reading of them, waste away vacations with them…in short, I devour them. It is not uncommon for me to be reading three or four books at a time. This has been going on since I was 19 when my mother, a talented aspiring writer herself, handed me a book by Bryce Courtenay. Prior to that I had fought my way through the required high school reading. Suffice to say that i have read hunderds and hundreds and hundreds of book in the last 22 years.
    Why is this important? Because three months ago I purchased a *gasp* Kindle. And do you know what? I LOVE IT! Of course there is a wonderful nostalgia and feel for paper and ink. Yes there are fantastic tactile aspects to “the book”. But honestly, it really is not a big part of the puzzle for me. I can honestly say that when I am reading, I am so caught up in the story, the characters, the imagery, that to think about the paper and ink is a distraction I do not easily fall victim to (and I grew up in a printer’s household, so yes…blasphemy indeed).
    Point is, the Kindle is a tool and it should be used as such. Do I see a difference in reading Chris Moore or John Irving on a Kindle versus Dante’s “Inferno” on a Kindle? Absolutely! Would a large format paperback on the finest wines of Champagne be better in a book or on the Kindle? I don’t know. But I do know that the design of the Kindle is phenomenal, it’s display a remarkable victory over the traditional glare we get from other conventional technology. In addition, the ability to purchase a book i am interested in within seconds of hearing about it makes me very happy. It is, in my honest opinion, the perfect way to get good entertainment reading 90% of the books written today. And for the record, I’ve sat by the fire and read a book on my Kindle and I can assure you, you get used to it real quick if you are truly reading the story. A great writer once said, “the play’s the thing”.

  12. Forex Brokers - June 9, 2010

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  13. Forex Brokers - June 9, 2010

    Well… round about every blog posts online don’t have much originality as I found on yours.. Just keep updating much useful information so that reader like me would come back over and over again.

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