Category Archives: Joanna R. Smith

How a Book is Like a Piano: Joanna R. Smith guest blog

~Today’s blog comes from Joanna R. Smith!~

I’m going to have to start this out by declaring across the board that I am a little old-fashioned. I mean, I adore my 13” MacBook and couldn’t go more than a few days without internet access and I quite enjoy air conditioning and automobiles and ChapStick and indoor plumbing.

But e-books sort of hurt my soul.

They’re convenient, of course. With hundreds of books at your fingertips, there’s no need to agonize over which one to bring on vacation; they take up zero shelf space so you never have to feel guilty for buying more; and with the handy-dandy, fancy-schmancy invention of e-readers and e-ink, you don’t even have to worry about eye strain. Just like reading on paper. Just the same as a book, because of course it is a book, packaged slightly different. The words are the same, the story the same—what does it matter how that story is presented?

Which brings me to my blog title.

I am a pianist as well as a writer and a book enthusiast, and if there’s anything that makes a pianist roll their eyes more than another rendition of “Heart and Soul,” it’s a comment that goes something like this:

“We don’t have a piano but we do have a keyboard. It has weighted keys and everything, so it feels and sounds exactly like a real piano, only it never has to be tuned—you can’t even tell the difference!”

This is, to some extent, true. Keyboards nowadays do a fairly good job of mimicking pianos, and they’re obviously a lot easier to haul around than a grand piano (or even an upright), and take up far less room. They’re a decent substitute for someone who can’t afford a real piano or lives in an apartment or just wants to try it out before committing.

But a keyboard and a piano are not the same. There’s a richness of sound present in nine feet of resonating wood and vibrating strings and eighty-eight little hammers that simply cannot be wholly captured with plastic and electronics. You could sit down at a keyboard and play a Chopin Ballade note-for-note the same as you would play it on a grand piano, but you would have a completely different experience. I’m not saying that you couldn’t enjoy the Ballade on a keyboard, and I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be Chopin—I’m simply saying you would be missing out on the resonance and complexity and depth you would get on the grand.

At this point I will freely admit to owning a keyboard. I use it mainly in sync with my MacBook to notate music or record stuff in GarageBand. I’m glad I have one; it fulfills these needs admirably. But whenever I feel like playing or writing music, I don’t go to the keyboard—I sit down at my 6’1” Yamaha Conservatory Grand (name of Imrahil, in case anyone was wondering).

Which brings us back to books again.

I love books; I love that paperbacks smell different from hardcovers (they do!), love the feel of pages between my fingers, love the look of spines all lined up nice and neat (and alphabetical) on my bookshelves. There’s something about real paper and real ink that gives story a sense of permanence and tangibility lost in electronic pixels.

I’m not ragging on Kindle and Nook and iPad users; I’m not saying you couldn’t fall in love with an e-book version of Lord of the Rings. I’m just saying you might be missing out on the richer and deeper experience of reading a book on paper, of that moment when you were sitting on the love seat in the little window nook and it was almost dinner time, and your mom was calling you to set the table and you were gripping your library copy of Return of the King with trembling hands, fingers poised to turn the page, terrified out of your mind that noble Frodo and faithful Sam were going to experience Death By Volcano and this lovely, deep, enrapturing, ridiculously thick three-volume novel was going to end terribly—

But as I said. Old-fashioned.