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Booking Through Thursday: Whither Bookshelves

April 14, 2011

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In a related question to last week’s–

I was reading the other day a quote from JFK Jr who said on the death of his mother, that she died surrounded by family, friends, and her books. Apparently, Jackie’s books were very much a part of HER, her personality, her sense of self.

Up until recently, people could browse your bookshelves and learn a lot about you–what your interests are, your range of topics, favorite authors, how much you read (or at least buy books).

More and more, though, this is changing. People aren’t buying books so much as borrowing them from the library. Or reading them on their e-readers or computers. There’s nothing PHYSICAL on the shelves to tell strangers in your home, for better or worse, who you ARE.

Do you think this is a good thing? Bad? Discuss!

This question gets to the root of the visceral reaction I have against e-books. If actual books stop occupying physical space, how can you browse? Visiting a friend’s house always involves taking a tour of the bookshelves. Especially if I’m there for the first time. And I worry that libraries will disappear as community spaces, with the death of the paper book. Maybe they’d become community spaces? I’m not optimistic. I know that libraries, just like other arts and community service venues are facing drastic and scary funding cuts. How could you really justify a library that was a bunch of… eBook consoles? I can’t even imagine it. It’s like something out of the weird, glossy world of Woody Allen’s Sleeper.

Just like any transfer between modes of technology, the shift will be slow. People will still have books on their bookshelves, to browse. And maybe as they lose or replace books, or get new ones, those would be eBooks. And some people (like me) will be dragged into eBooks kicking and screaming. So even as paper books start becoming the extreme exception, there will be holdouts and fans, creating a market for them, and for bookshelves.

When I first moved into this apartment, it took putting the bookshelves together to make it feel like I had a proper home. Because it was my first time living alone, being able to arrange my bookshelf made me feel giddy. You mean I can choose what books go in the living room for people to see? And what books go in the bedroom for people to sometimes see? It made me very happy. It also made my bookshelves somewhat, ahem, intuitively arranged… to the point that maybe they could stand to be reorganized.Which I keep saying I’ll do. Soon?

For every book I read in 2011, I’m donating $1 to the New York Public Library.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2011 8:13 am

    I’m very happy to see that many people still want the physical books around them, even if they also have an e-reader.

    I’m in that particular camp, too. My bookshelves are like pieces of my soul. Like you, I didn’t feel at home until my shelves were up and filled, and I’m always searching for another bookshelf.

    Here’s MY BTT2 POST

  2. April 14, 2011 10:29 am

    I was pretty much against e-readers for most of last year but it got to the point where if I wanted to keep buying books I would have to have some of them in electronic form as I was running out of space. Now that I actually have a kindle I find it not as bad as I thought, I still get that same feeling of getting lost in a book as I do with real life books.

  3. April 14, 2011 11:24 am

    I still prefer the actual book.

    stop and see mine and my giveaways.

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