I am drawn to bookshelves. It’s one of the first places I look whenever I visit someone’s house. You can find out a lot about a person, I think, from what they’ve got on their bookshelves and it often leads to a common ground.

I’ve read that too, remember when – , what did you think about –

Even though reading is a personal experience, it can also be immediately shared.

I was thinking about this last night as I reached this passage in ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’:

“I find coffee in the fridge, and find the coffee maker, and start the coffee. While I wait for it to brew, I peruse Henry’s bookshelves.

Here is the Henry I know. Donne’s Elegies and songs and sonnets. Doctor Faustus  by Christopher Marlowe. Naked Lunch. Anne Bradstreet, Immanuel Kant. Barthes, Foucault, Derrida…..”

I have stopped buying books. I download them on my iPad because it is immediate and it responds to my indecision about what I want to read. It also seems more economical, given that I already have an attic full of books from my university days, and because I’m getting increasingly aware of how much I waste.

Sounds sensible, yes? And yet –

I wonder what will happen when our libraries of books and collections of music exist only in electronic format on iPads and kindles and phones. Whether there will be more opportunities for I’ve read that too, remember when – , what did you think about – if we share things electronically, or if that process won’t translate.

I guess it could go either way.

I have been working out why this matters so much to me. After all, it’s not as though I have studied each of my friends’ bookshelves or CD (remember those…) collections, and I am still slightly struggling with the reading anything longer than a web page thing. Plus, we could always just have a conversation.

Maybe it feels like a narrowing of the avenues of communication or something though. As if the subtleties and intimacy of exploring where someone’s imagination might have been are lost. As though it stops becoming an exploration and becomes more akin to a presentation: this is what I want you to see.

Maybe this isn’t about books or bookshelves. Maybe it’s about a wider shift in how we’re starting to live?


4 responses to “Bookshelves

  1. It’s an interesting issue. I think ultimately, a lot of it is about presentation, perceptions and image. Whether it’s a bookshelf stacked with books or a digital device crammed with files it’s still all about culturally building an identity. We can’t stand the emptiness so we fill out lives with stuff but we’re so busy fretting about filling our lives with stuff that we don’t actually experience and get meaning from the stuff itself.

    That’s why I have difficulty working out whether to get rid of old CDs and books because they still contain memories and I like the physical feel, but I also appreciate the space and convenience offered by, say, reading classic novels on an iPhone. We can share still share stuff either way and both sides have the benefits and disadvantages and aren’t incompatible.

    Ultimately, the key thing is “does this mean something to me?” and what it does mean to you as a pure thing, regardless of what form it comes in, how much it costs or what kind of image it gives off (I sit in public reading hyperviolent comics, but that doesn’t make me a violent person), etc.

    The crucial thing is the reader and the relationship with the reading. And that relationship and the pure love or fascination with something can always be shared to another easily.

    (I hope that doesn’t sound like academic babbling. Basically, yay for books and stories and films and comics and art and all kinds of culture!)

  2. Lol! Not academic babbling. I had the same debate about it being “just stuff” actually, but I think I reached the conclusion that it was how we interpret things like books or music and the clues we take from them that was interesting. You’re right though thinking about it again now, because we can do that same interpretation from any object….and we can also get it very wrong. Maybe it’s better to talk it through? I guess I was selfishly a little sad because I love seeing what people read and why and whilst FB book apps or spotify do enable that, a liost on a computer screen is never quite the same…

    Guess I’m babbling now 🙂 Not sure I reached the conclusion of my thought yet…but interesting to see how different things will be in a few years time.

  3. The problem for me is what happens when the technology changes.

    At the moment we can read books 100 years old with no problem because the technology is stable. I can’t see the latest gadget – or the system it uses – lasting 100 years.

    • That’s a really interesting thought. And a bit scary.

      When I was at uni, I used to buy second hand books that had been annotated by other students. That’s the other thing that I think might be lost if the format of books changes: the history of other readers. I don’t know how that can be replicated if we each have our own electronic copy.

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