The combination of a family bereavement and Facebook finally releasing the admin shackles on my page No, I do NOT have too many books! had me thinking about the past. The past and bookcases.
I have a complex relationship with e-readers, probably because it took me forever to own one. I have a complex relationship with books, probably because I own thousands.
As a child I remember staring at all the books on the shelves in our dining room* and wondering what they were about, wondering where they had come from and where they fitted in with the history of my family and the broader history of the world around us. Some covers and titles were intimidating in their quirkiness, like all the Paddy Clarkes and Sue Townsends, while the Tolkeins stood like defiant stores of treasure and Abbie Hoffman’s call to Steal This Book proved almost too tempting. Books weren’t just stories, they were little pieces of the world, weathered or preserved with reason and purpose, little histories in and of themselves.
I can’t imagine a child staring at a Kindle with that same level of awe.
Don’t get me wrong. E-readers, the Kindle foremost of them all, are exploding the worlds of reading and literacy. People who had given up on reading are again picking up the habit. A countless multitude of texts are at the fingertips of every single user/reader, and independent presses are finding themselves ready and able to compete side by side with the big publishing houses. The Kindle has done nothing but help in the spreading of words and stories.
But it’s still just a little black stick.
In e-readers, the wonder of a stack of books is replaced with a coolness factor, an intrigue as to what the device is and what it can do, but with no precedence over a mobile phone, TV remote or electric can opener. When a book no longer satisfies a child, all books are not held to blame because all books are not the same item, but part of the rich tapestry of objects and ideas that the child is exploring in the home. Tie all literature together in one device, and when the device becomes jaded and rejected, the content becomes jaded and rejected. Suddenly the entire world of literature can be snuffed out with the flick of a power switch.
And at the very basic level… a child will find a kindle makes a much less serviceable hat.
That house I grew up in is still there, still lived in by my parents, with most the books on those shelves standing the same as they did twenty years ago. Boxes and piles of other books now cluster around their feet, sprawling over the piano that stands between them, and working their steady way across the floor to consume the rest of the room.