I am reading an old copy of Graham Greene’s “Getting to Know the General.” Unlike most of Greene’s work as a storyteller, this is a biography about a certain Osmar Torrijos, a Panamanian leader during the time of negotiating the ownership of the Panama Canal with the United States.
This copy of “Getting to Know the General” is raggedy, it feels as if is going to fall apart in my hands. I am afraid to open it too wide for fear that the pages are going to fall from the binding like oak leaves in autumn. The front cover looks like it had a fierce battle with a pair of scissors, gingerly hanging onto the book’s spine. The once white pages have been replaced with the familiar yellow-brown fade along the outside edges. It smells properly just how an old book should smell.
Thumbing through the book, I find some additions from the publisher that make the copy seem ancient. In the first pages of the book, there is a line stating that the publisher offers bulk discounts for “sales promotions, premiums, or fundraising.” For details, you write a letter to the Vice President of Special Markets in New York, New York. No telephone number is given, just an address.
The last 4 pages of this book are mail order forms to buy new books. There is a page for Graham Greene, 2 other related authors, and page of books appealing to the subject matter of “Getting to Know the General” labeled “Presidents, Primates & Pundits.” You check the boxes next to the books you want, and along with the price listed next to each book, you add 75 cents per order for postage. Write your check for the calculated amount, and mail the order to New York. If the order is over 10 dollars, you can fill in your credit card information. Expect delivery in 6 weeks.
I thought that I had stumbled on a time portal. I thought that with this book I was glancing far back in time, a time before I was even conceptualized, a time when maybe my mother was a small child. As it turns out, this copy was just as young as me.
The year this book was printed was 1984 and I was 1 year old. “Computer” was a word that did not exist yet.
What is available to me right now is an onslaught of information: Wikipedia summary of the book and life details of the author, detailed information about every book he had ever written and recommended books. I can readily find email addresses, telephone number, and directions (which also could include flight information and hotel rates), hours of operation, and current staff members of the publisher.
Now I can download books by this author (not Getting to Know General, yet) directly to my kindle (it’s on my nightstand next to my bed) in under 6 seconds.