Think of it as the book singularity. Casting off their physical shells, books are achieving a sort of immortality by becoming ebooks. Well, they’re not necessarily freer or even longer lasting, I guess, but they sure are easier to move from place to place.
Linda Grant writes at length in the Guardian and at even more length in an essay published unironically as a $2.99 Kindle single, about the “murder” of her library, at her own guilty-ridden hands. I’ve covered this ground before but not as eloquently as Grant.
I no longer need to impress male visitors with the depth of my reading. So what is the nature of this library; what function does it serve other than being a filing system for books? What, to use the phrase beloved of cultural criticism, does it say about me and to whom is it addressing this message? When builders or grocery delivery men come in, they often say: “Blimey, have you read all these books?” In friends’ houses I have stopped inspecting their bookshelves for evidence of their literary taste because we have all read, more or less, the same books. My curiosity is limited now to how they store and display them. The former literary editor of a national newspaper told me the other day that most of his books are in paid-for storage and have been for years. Now there is a strong part of me that thinks that if you don’t have access to your books you might as well not have them.
Indeed, if you can read your books electronically any time you want, aren’t they just lumber? I’m not ready to give up on art books, antiquarian ones, or especially inscribed ones, but it sure is tempting sometimes. Before you ditch your collection in toto, drop by the Morgan Library in NYC and see these two shows: Garp to Gatsby and Treasures from the Bodleian Library. If you’re still not convinced to hold on to at least a few special volumes, consider this risible digital alternative to visible book covers, via the Onion.
But all is not lost for books made of paper and the shelves that hold them. No lesser publication than the Wall Street Journal alerts us to the #Shelfie: a tweeted photo or instagram of, well, your stuff on a shelf. The tag seems to have migrated away from generalized natures mortes to straight up bookshelf shots, a few of which could be called Bookshelf Porn, but not many.
As always, caveat lector and your mileage may vary.