Friday, August 20, 2010

The Slow Death of the Home Library

You're probably all tired by now of hearing me talk about books and reading and related topics. Too bad. It's my blog. Deal with it.

But seriously, folks...

There was an interesting, if dispiriting article by Phillip Kennicott in last Sunday's Washington Post: the print title was "The Home Library Fades Away; Part of the Framework of Our Lives;" and you can read it online here - As Electronic Readers Gain Popularity, What Happens to the Personal Library? It's a good question.

In the first paragraph of the article, Mr Kennicott writes of visiting a "trophy home" where he got away from boring conversations by "...escap(ing) to a room that was called the library, not because anyone ever read there but because it was quiet and filled with books." He goes on to note that this particular library was less for reading than for display - look how many books I have, I must be really well-read.

The key observation here is the part about the library being quiet and filled with books. Many of those books may not ever be read, or be just for show, but a library is a less a storage place for books we may never read (or read more than once) than it is a peaceful refuge from the bustle of the day. Most houses don't have a library any more, just as the deceitfully-named great room has replaced the parlor or sitting room of earlier times. I think that's sad.

Agnes and I don't have a library...instead, we just have more books than we know what to do with. We've run out of shelf space, and have books piled on the floor, boxed in the garage, and teetering in piles on the filing chair in the kitchen. If you pick up a book anywhere in the house, you'll find at least one more under it, behind it, beside it, or being propped up by it. No matter how many books we grudgingly donate to the library, give to charity, or try to sell at used book stores, there are always more there to take their place. I think they breed in the dark.

But what's really driving the stake through the heart of the traditional home library is digital publishing and the rise of the e-Reader, the Nook, the Kindle, and the iPad. When you can store hundreds, if not thousands of digital books on a device smaller than a single traditional paperback, who needs a separate room to store dead-tree books?

A few years back I wrote about a wonderful little book I'd read titled The Library at Night, by Alberto homage to the library in all its incarnations and uses (as workshop, island, and identity, among other chapters). Identity is one of the more interesting aspects of the library. As I've written before (and noted in a post a few weeks back about reading people through their choice of books), the things we choose to read tell other people a good deal about us...clues and cues that are missed when we see a digital reader with a blank or unviewable screen instead of a book with a cover. The personal library helps to define our identity, to give clues to who we are, what we value, and the things and topics we enjoy.

I guess I'm just a traditionalist, and I'll live out my allotted timespan on this earth surrounded by shelves and piles of books, curled up in my own poor version of a home library that's my personal island of peace and serenity in a sea of electronic distractions.

Enjoy your digital reader. When the power goes out - again - I'll still be reading by warm and flickering candlelight.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

My ereader will by no means stop me from buying books. My house is full of them. My mom's cookbooks all of mine..I need to acquire more shelf space badly.

The eReaders are nice though to grab some free reads and there are a lot out there.

Amanda said...

Y'know, I like the sound of your house. We don't have any e-readers in this house but we do have plenty of library books piled up around the place. I think I mentioned before that we aren't a household that purchases many books....we just borrow. And re-borrow if needed :)

Alex said...

Reading things on a screen can never compare to paper. Whether it's technical specs, pleasure reading, or education material, I find it much easier to read things on paper.

Then again, I'm biased, my book shelves are full.

allenwoodhaven said...

Think of it this way: if/when the power grid is done and gone (per any number of future-themed stories) you'll be all set to read by candlelight! Neighbors will be knocking on your door to have you share your wisdom.....

KKTSews said...

Have you ever tried to read by candle-light? My eyes water like crazy. Born in an earlier period, I would definitely have been the half-blind spinster in the corner. Reading by flashlight, on the other hand, I can accomplish. When my daughter was young I would sit in her room after putting her to bed and read by flashlight for a bit until she fell asleep.

Mike said...

Sounds like a good reitrement project. Building a library addition.

TimberDonkey said...

I'm afraid the bulk of my library fell victim to my recent de-cluttering craze, and, after a thorough dusting, found its way to the local thrift shop. (I debated donating them to the library, but this thrift shop's proceeds go to charity, and the books that don't sell get sent to the library anyway, so it works out.)

I did, however, keep some classics: all 13 Wheel of Time novels, the complete Harry Potter series, and the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit, as well as my geek-liciously expansive comic book collection.

As for e-readers, I have to say I'm loving my hand-me-down gen-one Kindle. I've been using it to tackle all those Great Books I managed not to read back in high school (please don't tell Mr. Nukala): I just finished Jane Eyre, and am now tackling Wuthering Heights. Those Bronte sisters are fantastic.


KathyA said...

I like the feel of a book in my hands and the look of them all lined up in the shelves I've put up in my office; my refuge. I DO wish we had room for a library downstairs, though.