How is the civilized world going to survive without books you can hold in your hand?
Will a subgroup of educated elite stick with bound paper copies, even though the same texts are available electronically?
I made a terrible face when someone (who shall be nameless) gave me a Kindle for my birthday last fall. It took months, and a trip by plane, before I gave it a try. Now, having read two books and a bit of The New York Times on my Kindle, I remain reluctant to become a true convert.
I’ve always cherished the many books, of various vintages and for children as well as adults, that abound in my house. I can’t imagine the living room without the shelves full of books on either side of the fireplace; in my opinion, they also make the room look pretty. For the most part, our books are arranged by happenstance, or just dropped on the shelves helter-skelter. I’m not one of these people who treat each volume as a precious object. I’ve been known to dog-ear.
So why do I hold on to them?
When I was in college, a friend and I got excited when — in a used-books store we frequented — we came upon a handsome, dark-green set of 24 books by Honoré de Balzac. I can’t remember why we were so enthralled by Balzac at the time. It’s possible that we were more motivated by the idea of being the sorts of intellectual, worldly young women who own things like that. Neither of us had enough money to buy the set, so we decided to split the cost . . . and the books. We promised each other to exchange them some day. Of course, we never did.
I read two Balzac novels, Le Pere Goriot and La Cousine Bette, before graduating. At least I think I did. But I never read even one more novel by Balzac afterward. My half of the set decorates the top shelf of the bookcase to the left of the fireplace. I wonder if she kept hers?
Some people I know have impressive libraries, reflections of their intellects and taste. I’ve admired them (the people and the libraries), but it may be that personal libraries of this kind are doomed. If everything you could possibly want to read is, or will be, available with one or two clicks and in a few seconds, book collections will surely turn into little more than antiques, accumulated to gratify the desire for collection. Or investments, like artwork, perhaps.
The long, drawn-out controversy over the planned new children’s wing at the East Hampton Library seems to be over. I’ve supported the wing, even though the building, and the library’s parking lot, are adjacent to my house. Given that books are becoming virtual — that children are learning to manipulate computers and other electronic devices in elementary school or even kindergarten — libraries with good children’s rooms seem more and more important. Who would want their child to grow up without knowing the touch, and the smell, of a favorite old book?