Thursday, January 31, 2013


still reading real books, are we?

I woke up this past Sunday with a strong yearning to visit a really good bookshop.  I wanted that wonderful old safe feeling, a combination of happiness at being surrounded by quiet walls of secondhand books to the ceiling, pleasure at the near-infinite choice of what to read next, and the excitement of the possibility of discovering buried treasure.  So when Ryan asked what we should do today, I told him my wish, and since we had other fish to fry in the same area, we set out for points south.  The shop we chose did not disappoint; I immediately found one thing I was searching for, a Samuel Johnson collection that includes his poem The Vanity of Human Wishes, which I have been wanting to read for two years and did not own.  I also bought two art books, one of which I had read and sold and now want to read again, the other I did not know about and am very interested in.  And then for fun, I added The Oxford Book of English Talk, which captures in print over five hundred years of conversations and manners of speech, from literature, court records, periodicals, even early radio.  Such a great browsing book.  Johnson and Boswell of course make an appearance with some table talk of their own.  I think I would, if I put my mind to ever forming a real collection of anything, versus just a windrow, love to collect everything in The Oxford Book of... series.  But that just doesn't seem to be the way my habits run, and so in my book booth for sale right now I have The Oxford Book of Food (which I love and did keep at home for many years before deciding to offer it for sale), and a particular old favorite, The Oxford Book of Oxford.  Localized but delightful nonetheless, also kept a while and now, no longer.  Windrows it is, collections, not so much.

But back to the bookshop visit.  We spent over an hour carefully looking through our favorite sections.  And then at the checkout counter, listened to the kind clerk's familiar tales of woe:  The book business sure has changed (I gestured outside and said "Everything's changed out there," then gently patted my stack of books and said, "but these haven't changed...");  We don't get many dealers in here any more (...but here I am, I thought, as I wrote out a check); and finally, Young people have stopped reading real books.  I informed my teenage niece of this a few hours later and she snorted and said, "Not in this family."  She just finished decoupaging pages from a damaged copy of a Harry Potter book all over the lining of an old trunk.  We say that she's read the Harry Potter series so many times she could teach a class on it.  Oh, she reads, that young person, and not just HP.  And so do lots of other young people.  Real books.  They may not be buying them in shops like the one we visited - so many book buyers are indigent and thus seek the best possible (perceived) deal - but I don't really know.  I remember all the "kids" who bought books from me at my own shop.  Lots of them.  One girl came in every time she got paid and bought difficult Russian novels and edgy poetry.  I still think of her fondly. 

I'm sorry, but I do not think real books are over and done.  I just flat-out don't.  E-readers are pieces of plastic.  But there, now I sound like the clerk at the bookshop, tearing something down, when all I really want to say is, happily and with great sincerity and gratitude:  Long live the codex!     

I completely agree. I know several people who use e-readers and also enjoy actual books. I, as just a person who reads, not a dealer, have 1600 and some odd myself. Book sales are not what they once were and will never be again but they are not going away despite the hype. For several decades we've been hearing that painting was a dying art but there are probably a higher percentage of us doing it now than at any time in history.
Hi Steve, thanks for your comment. Many of the books-about-books I've read over the years, about both new and secondhand books, written by booksellers and publishers and collectors, have said that the reading population of this country is fairly small. I mean people who read a lot, consistently. I think this is still true, and while electronic gadgets have drowned out books to some extent, and they have gotten people reading in different ways, that small part of the population who really reads (that would be us...) will always turn to real books as their (our) boon companions.

Painters too... yes, if I stop to worry about it I might feel old-fashioned if I paint sunsets or a barn, but you know what, I paint what I am haunted by, what I absolutely love. I have to do what I feel called to do. Life is too short to do otherwise!
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