One Hidden Peril of the Printed Word
Dilemmas are easily encountered but rarely mastered – they just hang on in there, teasing with possible solutions just out of reach. They’re usually laden with a little irony, a little out-of-placeness, which suggests that perhaps you’ve somehow taken the wrong path, erred once too often, that the untenable situation is somehow your fault alone. ‘Choose a Path!’ they cry, but you can’t. Trust me, I know. In an age of new media and the electronic page, I live in a house of books. So far, no dilemma, and not entirely surprising for someone who reads, edits and writes for a living. But the printed word sometimes makes me sick. A quandary, yes?
Not, I should add, that I’m a moralist. I’m not perturbed by what I read. It’s just that the words can make me sick. Or, rather, the ink with which they’re printed. Our local newspaper, such that it is, makes me sneeze. I don’t mean a delicate little kerchew. No, no – it’s an Oh-My-God-He’s-Gonna-Die trumpet. Every day. So I’ve taken out a Web subscription and my wife reads the print version, kind of surreptitiously at the end of the lounge room, almost out of sight. We have strange reading habits.
Still no dilemma, but you would have to admit an amount of inconvenience.
So consider this, which is more to the point – I recently missed a book launch due to illness and the author kindly sent me a copy of the volume in the mail. I very much want to read it again (I edited it twice, so nothing of it is really new to me) because it outlines the sort of design philosophy that I think will be useful in running an editing department. This might sound like a long shot, but after you’ve exhausted all the sure things to get to a certain level, a few chances taken never go astray. Yet, and almost inevitably now, the book makes me sneeze. It also makes breathing difficult when I have it open.
What sort of ink do local printers use?
A minor dilemma, then. After all, I can still take a different long shot. But I managed to get myself into a far more difficult jam when I bought a copy of Charlie Munger’s Poor Charlie’s Almanac recently. This time, money and urgency are added to the equation. Charlie Munger, for those of you who don’t know, is Warren Buffet’s partner in Berkshire Hathaway, which is amongst other things the world’s largest holding company. Oh yes, and the subject of a book one of my clients is working on.
Vital research material – which not incidentally cost HK$700 – that causes sneezing, coughing and a little dizziness is not a fantastic read, I can assure you. But what can I do, ditch the expensive book and cite my health as the reason? Who would believe that? I tried to read the book, Mr Client Sir, but it harmed my delicate constitution. Not very convincing. Or I could just read it, cough and splutter, swear and curse. Groan, groan, wheeze. I’ve tried both – well, I dropped seemingly unnoticed hints about the book and my health, and suffered through reading two chapters. I’ve managed to grasp the nettle with both hands. It is, to succumb to another cliché, the worst of both worlds.
I should join Readers Anonymous. They must have a twelve-step programme to deal with this dilemma. I admit that I am powerless over that old-time evil ink. A book greater than thee can mitigate against tracheotomy. . . and so on. But first I’ll just read another chapter. Cough, cough, groan.