“Is it legitimate to use a book as a paperweight, to use an encyclopedia as a doorstop, to use newspaper as toilet paper, to pad out your bookshelf with books that you’re probably never going to read?” Price asked. Price is now starting work on another book that will focus on the ways in which people think about reading today and how they think people used to read differently before the digital age.
“In thinking about new media, we measure what we do now against a nostalgic baseline. We compare the way we really do use digital media to the way we imagine we once used printed media, so that we take the reading of printed books to stand for all sorts of values we think we used to have, like sustained attention, linear thinking, noninstrumental appreciation,” Price said. “But if you just count how many pages came off of the printing press at any moment, never in any historical period have books, let alone literary works, been the majority of printed production.”
When the printing press was invented, one of its primary uses was for papal indulgences, according to Price, while in Colonial America, the vast majority of printed materials were not literary texts but advertisements, broadsides, and legal documents.
Having a good thousand books or so, I think a lot about this. My character is so influenced by having my parents books available to me - a mix of spy capers, thrillers, and classics. My parents really were all about the Hi-Low when it came to their literary tastes, and when I look at my bookshelves, I see that manifested in a way that is one of the most obvious links to me and my family.
My girlfriend doesn’t really buy books, or any physical media. Not so say she doesn’t read - she’s got a kindle, and she’s taken to it, but really most of her reading is, of course, on the web. She serves as a balance against the habits that have been ingrained in me since childhood, and it helps me try to look at the situation with an objective eye.
What I’ve learned is that I still value books for two reasons that digital hasn’t fully replaced: art and source documents. A good part of my book collection now is historical - I’ve migrated pretty heavily to the kindle, so what books I do buy are usually first editions and the like now. Something that has historic value. Book as ARTIFACT. As source itself. And then there is the research contained within them. I’ve more than once, remembered some fact, read long ago in a book, that I wanted to look up. And often enough, despite Google being the repository of the world’s information supposedly, I find nothing online, turn to my books, and find the fact rather quickly. And then there is art. Photography. Still so much more gorgeous in a book than on the web. I still buy Taschen books fairly regularly, as anyone who’s been to my house would know. A high-school book I bought, a meticulously-researched complete works of Duchamp, is still exponentially more comprehensive and useful than any website devoted to him.
And then there are the books I buy that I want to read that aren’t on kindle yet. These never get touched - left behind an unending digital pile that will never be empty enough to get to the analog ones. Usually when I realize I want to read a physical book that’s bene on my to-read pile for a year or two, I look on Amazon and it’s available on the Kindle now. I have over 100 “notify me when this becomes available on the Kindle” alerts.I do love them just as objects, though. I love it when a visitor comes over and has pulled a few out. I like the statements they make in your house - as something to represent your way of thinking, every bit as much, if not more, than art. I also like the obscurity of some of those statements. You walk into a house, you see art and posters, you’re often immediately understanding of the person. With books you have to dig a little more, and you have to be a little more versed. It’s more aloof, which is something I like. YOU still feel at home in your home, but it’s a bit more personal, a bit less showy. Books are the black t-shirt and jeans to art on the walls couture.