Sunday, September 11, 2011

Enough About 9-11 ... Let's Talk About Billy

Unless you've been vacationing in a cave in Outer Mongolia for the last few months, you know that today is the tenth anniversary (if the word "anniversary" is appropriate for such a thing) of the attacks that murdered around 3,000 people in New York City, Washington DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Because we humans have a thing for commemorating important events, especially on round-number anniversaries, we are being buried in a wave of 9-11 memorial events that began a few weeks ago and culminates today.

Four years ago I wrote everything I needed to write about that terrible day and the day after here and here. If you're interested, go back and read it, and then reflect on what terrible effects can come from the intersection of twisted, rigidly self-righteous religious beliefs and the making of political statements.

If you want more 9-11 stuff, you can find it almost everywhere today. I choose to think about other things. Like changes to bookshelves and what they mean to us.

This article from Time Magazine notes that Ikea, the Swedish purveyor of assemble-it-yourself furniture, is redesigning its classic "Billy" bookcase line to reflect the reality that people don't store and display books any more ... they store stuff on shelves, and books on things like Kindles, E-Readers, Nooks, and any of a gazillion other properly-configured electronic devices.

This, as I've said often enough and many of you have agreed, is sad.

Bookshelves lined with books give character to a room and provide an insight into the interests and life of the person who lives there. When I visit a new friend's home, I generally look at three things first: what's on the bookshelves, what's on the CD rack (and those are disappearing, too, by the way, made obsolescent by digital music players), and what the kitchen is like - whether it's a real working kitchen or one of those "sizzling gourmet kitchens" that real estate agents tout as a symbol of affluence and a place to eat the pizza you ordered from Dominos.

Books are where we store our history and our dreams. Books are made to be held, read, savored, caressed, and even smelled. They have no battery to die, no screen to crack, and no 250-page operating manual (available only in .pdf format on the device itself) to tell you how to turn a page. Electronic readers may be the wave of the future (and I do have an iPad with three electronic reading programs on it - Overdrive, iBooks, and Kindle), but they will never replace the look, feel, and wonder of a real ink-and-paper book.

And if the bookshelves go away, too, we also lose something. We lose the ability to skim the shelves of accumulated books, finding new things to read and getting reacquainted with old friends. We lose the magic and the sense of peace that comes from curling up under a quilt on a cold and rainy night with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate. As autumn arrives and winter waits in the wings, that becomes something of more than academic interest.

The world is moving on. Many things changed (mainly for the worse) on 9-11, and change continues to buffet us as we move into a future shaped by illusions of security and a tidal wave of technology that threatens to take away one of our most cherished activities - the ability to read a real book.

Not to mention having a real library in our own home.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - One parting shot about 9-11: I am considerably less worried about what terrorists can do to us than I am about what we are doing to ourselves with the useless and despicable political chicanery going on in Disneyland-on-the-Potomac. Our elected and appointed ass clowns are hurting our future in ways al Qaeda never could. Think about it.



KKTSews said...

AARGGH! Not redesigning Billy! I have two Billy bookcases from when I first lived in NOVA (and worked with you) and in Germany (and worked for you). I recently went to IKEA and bought a couple more. So nice to know that, after 25 years, I could still match these incredibly durable bookcases. Yikes. I'll have to borrow someone's large vehicle and go buy more! Too bad it's a 2+ hour trip for me.

Amanda said...

I don't have...and never had...and impressive looking bookshelf. BUT, Aaron does. And you know what? I absolutely enjoy tidying it up for him, arranging and re-arranging his books. For now, I think he also appreciates his fast growing library and I hope the love for books and reading will continue to grow with him.

Bandit said...

I'm sure you heard about the tornado that hit Joplin, MO back in May. We still here alot about here in St. Louis through continuing relief efforts, etc. Joplin's high school was destoyed and the new on is an old Target store. The library has no books, just i-pads and laptops.

Mike said...

Reading a kindle is like going to the doctor. It's something you make plan to do. Reading a book is like having a friend stop by for a chat.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Bill - I am avoiding all things 9/11 this weekend. I worked in Manhattan at the time and came home a day early becasue of a call from my doctor. At the time that didn't make me happy. But in hindsight how lucky for me. I remember it all so vididly yet I can't tell you where I left my car keys on any given day. I do not understand "our" need to relive.
I undestand paying tribute to those that died needlessly that day. But it seems to go on and on beyond just a tribute. Now having said that....You made me look around my kitchen and home.
I think my kitchen would have you see a family who loves to cook and eat. Herbs on the window sills and a wine bottle on the kitchen island from the night before.
We have books everywhere. On coffee table, on night stands, 3 bookcases of books, and books in boxes because I don't have enough book shelves or room for them all. I just removed one from a book shelf that I had read 15+ years ago and decided to dive back in because I loved it so. I agree with Mike. It's like a good friend who stopped by and we haven't seen each other in awhile and we never skipped a beat and it was great warm company and conversation....the wine enjoyed while reading it didn't hurt either.

Bilbo said...

Katherine - I've lost count of how many Billy bookcases we have in different sizes and configurations. They are the pinnacle of convenient storage technology for books. We were at Ikea a little earlier this afternoon, and I saw that the Billy series was marked down for the first time in memory ... they may be clearing the decks, and it may be a good time to stock up.

Amanda - a love of reading is one of the best gifts you can give Aaron and Adrian. Good on You!

Bandit - now THAT is sad.

Mike - I had no idea you could be so poetic. I'm impressed!

Peg - I think we may live in the same house, just on different levels of reality. I'll need to live to be 100 just to read all the books I already have stockpiled, much less all the other ones people keep writing!

allenwoodhaven said...


eViL pOp TaRt said...

I like both the Kindle ebooks and the paper-and-ink ones, especially the latter if I want to have one for repeated readings or with illustrations. The e-readers sometimes are harder to read on flights, with poorer lighting and they're a pain to re-charge. And it bothers me that some books are now going for $12.99 in that format!

KathyA said...

And so I finally learn of your day 10 years ago. How terrorized you all must have been.

My world is full of books and even though I will probably purchase a Nook soon, the books will line my shelves -- but I bet you knew that already! :)