This weekend, I moved about 90% of my stuff from the house that I lived in for 23 years to the house that my husband and I have been building for the past 11 years and have finally committed to finishing and living in. We must have had over 35 boxes of books. I was amused when a friend said to me, “But you have so many books…” and she’s an English teacher!
My husband is a former art teacher, so many of the books were large art books. I am an amateur digital photographer and I collect books of photography, particularly of New York City, my old home town. There are many books from my Sociology degree (who knows – I may go back to teaching it one day), books by my favourite authors, even books from my childhood that I can’t bear to throw out. I am a chronic re-reader; I don’t mind knowing how the story ends because I like going back to places that I have enjoyed. I can put up with Jane Eyre’s trials and tribulations because the language is so beautiful and I know that it’s all going to work out for her in the end.
The books you own that live on the shelves and adorn the walls of your home tell who you are and what your life has been like. An e-reader can do many things for you in that it’s portable and the new retina display will make pictures glow, but it doesn’t look as nice on a coffee table as a book. It can’t make a home feel cozy and it can’t make a home feel lived-in like a nice wall of books.
As a librarian, I am thrilled to be able to have the skills to put my hands on just the right information source for a patron in a matter of minutes and sometimes, even seconds, thanks to the Internet. Of course, many librarians were able to do that with the books in their own library. Yet print has its advantages, even if it’s not speedy.
Printed books are subversive in that they are private. You can buy a book and pass it around a hundred times. Unlike e-readers, no publisher comes down on a library for loaning out a print copy of The Hunger Times a hundred or even a thousand times. I think that if the economy doesn’t kill print material altogether, it will still be around fifty years from now because people will love print for its own sake. I don’t think that it will be an antique format either, but I certainly hope that it’s not a premium source of literature or information, only available to those who can afford it.
Moving all those books was a big pain, but once I’ve had the joy of arranging them, they will continue to be my companions for years to come, and I will be happy to have them. On the other hand, I welcome the dawn of the e-reader and hope that over the next few years, bugs of copyright and accessibility will be worked out quickly and smoothy. It’s not a question of all or nothing; it never is.