Last week, Mireille Silcoff wrote an article for The New York Times: On Their Death Bed, Books Have Finally Become Sexy.
Given that I recently published a blog post, “Sexiest Book Alive,” I took issue with the idea that physical books have ever NOT been sexy. Then I read the piece, and I took serious issue with some other things, indeed.
First, I will commend Silcoff for being one of those who “can’t yet bring themselves to read on a Kindle or an iPad.” She and I at least agree on that. AND she references Seinfeld. Twice. So.
However, she says that the “Death of the Book has loomed” since “the e-book has been outselling the paper kind on Amazon since 2011.” That is true. However, the decline of physical book sales slowed in 2012; and, in 2013, “physical book sales stayed strong,” even if the effects of the e-book revolution are “far from over.”
Really, then, at this point there’s not much to worry about when it comes to the sale of physical books. I know that, considering the amount of us that prefer, as Silcoff does, the “intimacy” of a physical book, we will keep buying them, and loving them, and reading them.
Silcoff then discusses the recent “hard-copy bibliomania that has without question sprung up along the banks of digital reading,” and for a moment I felt heartened, as she mentions her peer group that pines for “floor-to-ceiling-bookshelves” that is her generation’s “No. 1, most-desired décor scheme.” For transparency’s sake, I must admit I have a bank of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in my basement. My father, a gifted carpenter, built them for me when my husband and I bought our first home together. The shelves are beautiful, as are the (alphabetically-ordered, not color-coded) books on them. But I digress.
Silcoff suggests that “all this recent paper-book love does seem like nostalgia’s natural progression,” and given the recent trend of people buying vinyl records, I do see a parallel and have to say that she might be right on this point. New advances in technology always bring about a desire for something simpler. I know, as a parent and teacher, I ardently pine for the days of teaching and parenting without social media and cellphones. Really, it IS possible to get through a class period – heavens, even a day! – without checking Facebook. Or Snapchat. Again, I digress.
Then I encountered the troubling portion of Silcoff’s piece, wherein I read about the horrifying trend of people using books as props. BOOKS AS PROPS, people, and this goes far beyond the Seinfeld reference about Kramer’s coffee table book that can also double as a coffee table. That was Seinfeld. It was funny because it was Kramer, and, like many of his harebrained schemes, it would never work.
This new trend of using books as props as “Seasonal Décor” or for “Any Occasion,” as listed by vendor beachbabyblues on Etsy, is, to me, a heinous misuse of books. Humanities and book-lover that I am, I believe – as do others, I’m sure – that books are invaluable to us as informed members of a literate society. If people now consider books as props, I understand, then, why some might pronounce the physical book dead. If Lauren Conrad can post a video of how to make a “‘unique storage space'” using cut-up book spines (even if it was, eventually, taken down after Buzzfeed (Buzzfeed!) called it “‘the worst craft idea ever'”), then we – and books – have a serious problem.
Here is my response to the trend of using books as, among other things, table centerpieces: Books are not decorations, but in their contents we find ornaments for our minds.
If, as Silcoff says, “The number of books in the world today is literally uncountable,” shouldn’t we be putting them to better use than decorations? Why wouldn’t we share that “uncountable” amount of knowledge with people and places who would appreciate it? A friend of mine at work spoke recently of a friend of hers who went to teach in Uganda, and how the students there thirsted for knowledge and appreciated the education provided to them. An influx of books would do them much more good than would using a book as party favor.
While I concede I find Jonathan Callan’s art stunning, even his work gives me brain-shivers as I think of who might, instead, have read those books and learned from them.
Books will always have “continuity.” Atticus Finch’s advice to Scout about walking around in someone else’s shoes remind me to consider the experiences of others. August Pullman’s experience reminds me that even in terrible situations, the good in people shines. Beatrice’s (Shakespeare’s, not Dante’s) razor-tipped tongue reminds me that sharp-witted women are strong, and can achieve what they want without compromising. Katniss’s reticence reminds me that I don’t always have to be liked, or be the bubbly girl on stage, to make a difference. Elizabeth Bennet’s process of self-realization reminds me that sometimes, I have to take a step back and remember that being mouthy isn’t always the answer.
What greater form of continuity can books offer? Physical books continue because they teach lessons about life, as Grapes of Wrath continues to do, and because, as readers, we learn those lessons. The continuity of books means the continuity of society as we continue to learn from and about each other, and apply that knowledge to the future, so that maybe – just maybe – we don’t continue to make the same mistakes as those who came before us.
No, books are not on their deathbed, and as far as I’m concerned, they never will be.