Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Birkerts revisited

I was rummaging (gently) in the books-about-books section this morning, hunting for a few things to send a new customer (Jodi, your books are on the way!) and I came across Sven Birkerts. Or the book that made him known, more precisely: The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. I pulled it off the shelf, wondering how it had fared since publication, if if had become dated. I was working behind the help desk of a new bookstore when it was published in 1994 and I remember the flap it caused, one could say the debate it started. Are books finished, OVER? Is this the END? Isn't an elegy written for something that's DEAD? Well, probably. But there's a lot of life in them yet! My favorite essay in the book is of course "The Paper Chase" about, in part, his time working in a used bookshop. Though I didn't even read this book until very recently. Extremely recently. Okay, okay, this morning. I think I had so many people recommend it to me over the years, and I sold so many copies back then, that I formed an unwarranted antagonism toward the book and determined NOT to read it. This happens to me often, particularly with best-sellers (I have yet to read a single Harry Potter book - I must be the last person in the world to be able to say this). Totally unreasonable cantankerous stubborn contrariness - I'm sure I miss all kinds of great books this way. But, all these years later, I picked up the Birkerts book this morning, idly opened it, and was hooked instantly when I read the following:

"Working in a bookstore affords a matchless sense of the big picture. Through stocking and sorting titles I started to see recurrences, interrelations, and, in time, arcs of connection. ... I wanted to know everything - I thought I could see how all fields were connected. And here was the chance of a lifetime to build up a library. I carted home histories, books of philososphy, editions of the classics, not to mention all of the novels and books of poetry that struck my fancy. I felt the old book sickness beginning to grip me." (pp.60-61)

The book sickness indeed. Like Birkerts, I'm beginning to wonder if my obsession with books will consume so much of my life energy that I will be unable to complete my own life projects - painting, writing my own books. You see, I want it all. Is that possible? Can that be arranged? These are rhetorical questions, of course, which I'm going to have to answer for myself.

I remember reading that book a couple of years ago;plenty of points to ponder there. Have you read Nicholson Baker's Double Fold? That one really opened my eyes up to book and newspaper preservation.

Not to the point that I spend most of my life savings buying up old newspapers from libraries as he did,but still a strong argument there for not relying on only one source to store history.
The book sounds like it could be interesting, I'll keep my eye open for it. I love found books, I've started keeping a list of books I would like to read, otherwise I get brain freeze when I walk into a bookstore and am confronted by those walls of books. I'm glad you were rummaging around the shelves, that sounds promising. I can hardly wait for the books to show up. I hope the mail is as fast this way as it was up to you.
Sarah, you can add me to your short list of folks who have not read Harry Potter. Who has time for 21st century bestsellers when we have barely made a dent in early 20th, 19th, 18th, etc...?
Nice post,Different books will provide varied levels of guidance to us,but in addition to reading, to write well it's even more important to write.To write all you
need is to find your Voice, and the words just follow along. but are an exemplar of that. You have a natural Voice. Your words show us that.,I have search many similar books , which are so interesting,and a fantastic ones. They are offering a great choice of books to search
LT, I haven't read "Double Fold" but I've seen his big book "The World on Sunday: Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer's Newspaper" and that's stunning - both a visual and a literary treat. I will get around to reading "Double Fold" one of these days. Needless to say, I love his obsessive style.

Hi Jodi - media rate could take a week. I thought about sending the books more quickly, but figured you might prefer cheaper shipping and an extra book instead.

Vicky, let's start a club. Of two. Well, I guess others can join.

Thanks, Kim - interesting site, but of course I prefer the hardcopy of a book to an online version... no surprise there, though! Thanks for commenting - this blog has been a great tool to use to find out what my "voice" is as a writer, or even if I have one. Feedback such as yours is heartening.
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