“You don’t need another book.”
It is a dreaded statement to hear – one that invokes mild outrage and contention within me. Akin to saying, “You don’t need to eat food anymore”, it lights up warning signals in my brain, telling me there is danger in my midst.
As it is with an appetite for food, mine for reading may not always be at its peak. I will never be disinterested but I may wane a little from having a list of things to read in my head that is ten miles long. I may not crave buying every book I can get my little grubby hands on. Yet as it is with food eventually you get bored with buying only the necessities and you one day find yourself unpacking one hundred and fifty dollars worth of groceries, wondering why you ever thought you needed ten bananas. You find a way to use them anyway so as not to let them go to waste. After a while of having only one book in the waiting pile on my night stand, eventually I will find myself unloading ten new ones and wondering why I ever thought to attempt reading Charles Dickens (again). You find a way to do it anyway so as not to let it go to waste.
During my time working at a bookstore the other staff and I have overheard many different conversations. Just recently a young man ridiculed his girlfriend for wanting to read The Great Gatsby because, “Why would you want to read a stupid book made out of a movie?” Sometimes people come in and they teach me things, they recommend books and share their insights about mutual past reads. It is a lovely job, to be surrounded by books and many people who love them. As a girl who found herself with misty eyes when she entered the library at Trinity College in Dublin you can only imagine how comforting a room full of books is to me.
Once in awhile I overhear (read: eavesdrop on) conversations during which I hear one person say to the other, “You don’t need another book.” Many times it’s a parent, sometimes it’s a spouse, other times it’s a friend. Whoever it is and whoever they are saying it to is no matter to me. All I hear is one person assuming that owning books is the same as owning dinnerware: you will reach a time when you have all that you need and any more additions to the set are unnecessary expenditures.
The only similarity I see between a plate and a book is they both contain the things that fill us up with goodness.
It is no secret the world has and continues to morph itself into a convenience machine. Simplicity, convenience, and speed dominate all developments. We sacrifice quality for the ability to save five seconds, especially if it does not require us to think at all. I watch e-readers fly off the shelves, those cold devices dominating an industry that up until very recently, or so it feels, was still overtaken by literal page-turners. These devices demand respect only for the apparatus itself and not for the print it displays. While a physical book requires care and shows its path in life from the stains and crinkles on its pages, your little screen will not.
To most this is ideal. This is progress. This is not worth any concern.
To a book lover this is heartbreaking.
We have lost a respect for the printed, covered, and bound editions that were at one time so revered. They seem much less necessary when everything is at your fingertips and taking up much less space. Why cover our walls with shelves and spines? Is that not antiquated and outdone, a backwards movement when we crave the simple, uncluttered lives pushed on us by self-help gurus guesting on Dr. Oz?
Book lovers still exist in this world. I know it from the pictures I’ve seen of homes that have devoted entire rooms to their collections of tomes. I know it from the people who gathered in that library in Dublin with me, staring at the shelves and up towards the ceiling, stunned. I know it from the people who come into my work and say, “I still want a real book, you know?”
It is possible that not all hope is lost in this regard but when you enter a book store and at first glance all you see are electronics it is hard to keep the faith from wavering. I know that having an e-reader does not make you a bad person and it does not make you lose faith in reading. It would be pointless to have an e-reader if it did. But when you have the capacity to download (for free) hundreds of novels right there at your fingertips, none of which you have an interest in but you want to stockpile in the same way your iTunes has ten thousand songs on it, I feel the discernment in choosing a novel may decline as your memory usage increases.
Ultimately I am most afraid of overhearing someone say, “You don’t need another book taking up space when you can just put it on the iPad.”
Books are a path from where we have been to where we are going and all the things that have interested us in between. A person’s bookshelf is a shrine to who they are and to who others have thought they were when they gifted some of those artefacts. There is always room for one more story in us. And there is always room to document it within our walls.