Northern Colorado Business Report
“The Last Will & Testament of the Book”
By Kai Staats
11 March 2011

Attorney: I recognize this is hard for you, to have lost someone special, someone important to you. (pauses, looks down at the documents in his hands) In this time, we are honored by the giving of a few possessions. Of course, no amount of money, no gift could replace the time we did share with the living. However, in reading Edmond’s will, it is clear how much he did care for each of you (looks around the room).

Rebecca: Thank you. (pauses to control her tears) Our family has trusted you for as long as I can remember, to take care of our family’s (crying again) … our family’s financial security.

Tim: What did I get?

Rebecca: (angry, turning to face her son) Tim! Don’t be rude!

Attorney: (annoyed, forces a polite smile) Edmond has left each of you with something that was very important to him … as I will share with you now. (clears his throat) “To my only daughter, Rebecca, I grant you my favorite Blue ray disc, a compilation of all my favorite Lost and Friends episodes.”

Rebecca: Oh! Oh! (sobbing) Thank you. Thank you Dad (looking up and out the window).

Attorney: (nods, then continues) “To my only son, Samuel, I grant to you a USB jump drive with every photo I have ever taken,” (pauses to double check what he is reading) “of all my duck hunting trips.”

Samuel: (emotions under control) Thank you. Truly, thank you Dad. I don’t know what to say. (shakes his head, turns to give his sister Rebecca a hug, then holds her hand).

Attorney: “Finally, to Timothy, my favorite grand–”

Tim: Sooo, what’d I get?

Attorney: (ignores him) “To Tim, I leave ten million dollars, the full value of my estate.”

Tim: What?! (looks to his mother, back to the attorney) Are you sure? (tears well up in his eyes … looks down at the floor and then rises up from his chair) Are you kidding me?! What a rip-off! What about his iPod! Or his Sony PlayStation? What about all the games—he has hundreds of games! I can’t believe this! I knew he didn’t love me … he always hated me!

Just as we sort through our physical possessions every few years to determine what is needed and meaningful, and what is just junk, I believe in the end, we all will find the value of a single printed photo held behind a chipped piece of glass in a tattered wooden frame to be of greater value than the tens of thousands of digital photos accumulated over the years. For all the time spent organizing and preserving, it will be that one photo which we cherish most when the backup drives have long since spun down.

You may recall the above at the closing of my last column “The Inevitable Loss of Data & the Last Printed Photo.” It is a subject, it seems, which I am not yet prepared to relinquish.

In my Loveland home I have a ninety-nine year old piano, a couch, a chair, hand made rugs from Turkey, Namibia, and Kenya, several framed photos, some six hundred CDs, and a few hundred books. As I prepare to put my house on the market, I have become keenly aware of what is and what is not important to me. I have even asked myself, what would I secure in my will?

Today I worked for several hours from the City News cafe and book store in downtown Loveland. It’s quiet, but not still. On a cold winter day, every time the door is forced open the smell of book, magazine, and newsprint ink mixes with the aroma of fresh brewed coffee, tea, and pastries. Mmmm, I love that combination. I can’t imagine a world without dusty, ragged novels and high gloss, large format photo essays. They are for me more important than furniture, and far more important than a television (which I have never owned).

The opening scene may seem a bit over the top, yet its message is clear—what will the next generation give to their children if books and music are no longer tangible items? In my experience, when someone has spent a lifetime collecting books, the act of giving is made real by the effort required to move them, to care for them each passing year. Each generation adds their story to the one originally told. Electronic books, however, can tell only one story for there is no medium by which they may record another. Without scribbled notes in the boundaries of fading, folded pages, the eBook is but a perfect copy missing the imperfection of time.

Perhaps I am stuck, antiquated, a product of a prior generation, but it is my parent’s library as much as anything in their home which defines who they are. A few thousand books is demonstration of their lifetime of research, knowledge—my heritage awaiting rediscovery of what they learned. I want to hear the spine flex when each book is opened. I want to smell the ink mixed with the dust of their desert home, my fingers moving pages of books which they once read to me.