The Idea of Books

The Idea of Books January 6, 2018

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This is a pretty interesting account of Amazon trying to use the Kindle to transform the whole idea of a book but not really being able to. It turned out to be sort of a comforting read, if you ignore this other one about another big chain closing. It made me want to transform my front room into a little bookstore. I’d always thought maybe I should open a tea room/bed and breakfast that’s never actually open except to friends when I feel like it. But I think civilization really requires big piles of books, and people meaning to read them.

I mean, we do all love the idea of books….
I should qualify that. We Do Not all love the idea of books. I have actually been to some places where there are no books. Some people don’t have them in their houses (cough, Kon Mari, cough) and there are lots of offices and waiting rooms where the Book basket has been supplanted by a large television screen with Rachel Ray’s cutting voice whacking its way through the still anxiety of hoping to hear the person with the clipboard call your name. And then there’s this ‘blithering idiot’ who turned the books round so that you can’t see what they are. In other words, not all people love the idea of books.

But lots of people do. Lots of people are busily acquiring books and trying to read them, however ineffectually, however distracted by the phone and by life. And it’s interesting to watch some monolith like Amazon trying to shape the reader’s behavior and desires, all for a buck of course, but also because of wanting to forge on into new realms of invention.

And it’s also interesting to me that you can still buy those cellophane wrapped display editions of famous works of literature–and other things that probably don’t manage to climb that high. I wrote badly about this a long time ago. ‘Where books go to die’ I called it, and described myself rambling around the carpeted aisles of Barnes and Noble, taking pictures of of all the available clumsily bound volumes. The Bible, of course, and Stephen Hawking, and Great Expectations, and Tom Brokaw’s book (it was a long time ago, and I won’t link it because I’m so embarrassed).

It seems a terrible kind of death. To be bound up like that and sold for $9.95. Who buys them? And when they are carried off to the place of your habitation, where are they shelved? Do you display them in the living room? Next to the enormous screen? If you really wanted to read the Bible or Stephen Hawking, you’d get it on your kindle or in a paperback that you could actually hold. But it’s not So terrible because at least the person who buys that unwieldy block thinks that it’s good to have and will look well somewhere. And then there are the people, like my child, who are lured by the scrawling title and the thickness and buys them, believing in their hearts that they will–She Will read it. She promises. She will persist. But of course she won’t because it’s too hard to hold up at night. Even though it does look very elegant and comforting on her nightstand.

The main thing, I think, is to keep meaning to read, even if you never actually do. And to keep buying the books, one way or another. To keep trying. And someday, maybe you can stop by and find me buried in crowded shelves and stumbling over piles of dusty literature, both good and bad, and spend thee dollars on something you’ve always wanted and meant to read, and I’ll smile and congratulate you, and then you’ll go home and set it down and gaze it, and then we’ll both climb onto Facebook and like each other’s book stacks.


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