Friday, May 13, 2011

Does this make you sad?

Frontispiece of Folio's "Prime of Miss JB"
"You know those built-in bookshelves you've always dreamed of having in your house or apartment?" reports the online book digest Shelf Awareness. "Apparently there are fewer people like you than there used to be. Crain's Chicago Business reported that 'with sales of e-book titles surpassing those of paper-and-ink volumes, homeowners are moving on.' Re/Max broker associate Lynn Fairfield said clients are dry-walling over bookcases to make room for flat-screen televisions: 'When I show houses, I never see books lined up on shelves anymore. If there are shelves, they're usually filled with sports trophies or photos or knickknacks.'"

As a person who lives, breathes, eats, sleeps, and dreams books; who has 26 non–built-in bookcases crammed into every conceivable cranny of a townhouse (including bedrooms, baths, and stairways); and whose greatest fantasy is to have a roomful of Folio editions of my favorite authors (I do have one of Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie!), I guess you could say that I am unusually enamored of books as possessions and aesthetic objects.  But obliterating bookcases with flat-screen tvs? Yoiks!

I am sure I would enjoy an e-reader immensely for certain purposes. And I love it that Google has out-of-copyright books available in a thrice. But when I kick the bucket they will probably have to pry a real book from my cold, dead hands. End of story. What do you all think—of books as mementoes, as possessions, as things to heft in your hand, to treasure and display?

P.S. Shelf Awareness also reported that Linda LaPlante—screenwriter of the Prime Suspect PBS series that blessedly brought Helen Mirren into our homes—is going to adapt Marcus Rediker's book Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age for tv as a sort of "Deadwood on the high seas." This we gotta see!
P.P.S.  The painting "Granny Lion Tamer," above, is by self-taught British artist Beryl Cook, whom I discovered through her illustrations for Folio's Miss JB.


  1. Sad, indeed!! The shortcomings of the e-readers are readily apparent. I'd like to think of true book lovers as I-readers. Also, when's the last time you found a pressed flower or old photograph in a Kindle? The treasures of artifacts and fingerprints of those who came before us are just as important. Books have life cycles!! Great thread...

  2. my house welcomes both books and e-readers. they each play their own part and i find them equally enjoyable. when i travel, my kindle is a life saver. i used to have trouble narrowing my book list down to four or five titles for a week's journey. now that i have a kindle, i get to travel light with all the books i can handle. but i confess that it will never replace the book. i love the smell, the weight, the covers, and especially the feeling of accomplishment that comes with turning the last page of a very long book.

  3. Well said!
    Another thing I love is inscriptions I read in books I buy secondhand. Or drawings kids do in their own books. My family handed down a copy of the Scarecrow of Oz, for example from my mother onward through 7 kids. And if that wasn't a palimpsest, I don't know what is!

  4. There's something about an E-reader that I just don't trust. Technology fails constantly. What happens when there's some computer glitch or dead battery or it gets stolen? I certainly can't take some shiny expensive electronic device with me on the train at night, but I am confident that I'll never be mugged for even the rarest first edition. It would be heartbreaking for me to lose all my precious titles and have to go to the trouble of getting them all over again. And don't even get me started about the possibility of having to "upgrade." How long before you have to shell out even more money because the new E-books are only compatible with the newest, most expensive E-reader on the block? My books will never become obsolete.