The title above is a line taken from a verse tacked on the wall of a summer cottage where I once stayed. The full verse describes the everyday comforts of a little house beside a lake in Wisconsin. It is the books part of the line that I want to emphasize here — books put on equal footing with the survival imperatives of life, i.e. rest and nourishment.
We are all aware of the enormous fast changing world of literature and reading in which we currently live. According to an article in a recent newspaper, “Barnes & Noble, the giant that helped put so many independent booksellers out of business,” now finds itself “locked in the fight of its life” (Bosman, J., “The Bookstore’s Last Stand,” The New York Times, Sunday, January 29, 2012). Barnes & Noble is the last major book store chain still standing. Huge numbers of former users of books have now turned to the Web, and to e-readers such as the Kindle and the Nook. About 500 independent bookstores have closed since 2002, and 650 more bookstores vanished when Border’s went out of business last year. And, as Bosman says, “Lurking behind all of this is Amazon.com, the dominant force in books online and the company that sets teeth on edge in publishing.”
So what does this mean to us in our everyday lives?
For some of us, our response to the technology now available for reading is to resist this innovation. The experience of sitting down with a good print book in hand is too precious to exchange for the Kindle or the Nook. Yet, for others, the availability of e-books has enabled them to once again hold a “book” — has restored the pleasurable activity of reading into their lives, offering alternative routes to a long-valued everyday occupation in the face of a disabling condition. Penguin Books advertises that The Help is now “available in paperback, deluxe hardcover, movie tie-in, e-book and audio editions.” Barnes & Noble claims “You can judge a Nook by its cover.”
A tremendous amount has been gained by this new world of books and technology. But what all has been lost?
Well, in addition to losing the pleasurable experience of holding a book and turning the pages, I fear I shall also lose the delight I have always found in looking at a bookshelf full of books. “Bookshelves reveal at once our most private selves and our most public personas” (Price, The New York Times Book Review, Nov. 13, 2011). Scanning through the contents of a Nook or Kindle does not offer the same visually rich experience nor the same level of access to the inner life of the owner as does scanning a full (or overly full) bookshelf.
One final note of loss. In my growing up years, I was aware of only one book in our home that was sort of “naughty.” My parents put that book, “Story of a Bad Girl,” on the top shelf of the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf — to get it out of reach for my sister and me. Being able to put books “out of reach” will obviously become a thing of the past!