Of “things”

Reading A splendor of letters  this morning, I came across a passage talking about fathers handing on book collections to their sons- in the context of Walter Mehring. It put me in mind of William Wisner’s meditations on the same subject. The idea being that the libraries represent not only what was read, but the whys and whens.

How will we pass on our literary collections? As books, as libraries, with the marks of our reading on them? As places and spaces where our children can walk and touch what we touched; follow our choices, wonder at why this boook? As collections of things? Or will we pass them a chip, a set of files, a pageflake writ large?

As we move to digitalisation and e-books, however long that takes, what will we lose when we lose tangibility? Will the gains of the digital world offset them; can we make new ways to engage with literature without ‘things’?

I would hope that we can find new ways of engaging with, and passing on, the experience of reading. Perhaps the emergence of social computing will help with this, preserving something of our interactions with words. But I can’t help but feel sad at the future loss of words printed on ‘dead trees’. Burt those who grow up without books will not feel that lack; I hope.

The spider weaves the curtains in the palace of the Caesars


2 Responses to Of “things”

  1. Katharine says:

    I don’t think that paper books will be lost for a very long time, if lost at all.

    People like having objects. People like collecting. They like a tangible tactile object in their hands and they like the feel of paper and they like to watch their own collections grow on their shelves as they invest time and money in developing them.

    New generations will, of course, not have the same close connection with the physical book because they are developing more and more relationships with electronic media, the walkman has been replaced by the ipod and so there is no longer the need for a huge collection of CDs or casettes (how old does THAT make me feel?) to carry around, so the usefulness of the physical CD decreases.

    Those listening to music often want a variety of artists and tracks available at any one time to switch between. But how many people switch every few minutes to read a chapter of a different book by a different author? The Ipod, for example, fulfills a desire which listening to music creates but which is simply not there when reading a book. Carrying one or two books around with you is no particular burden. (My boyfriend wears jeans with huge pockets, and carries a bag, so he can get as many paperbacks on his person as possible at any one time – but I doubt that even he would ever want to swap that for a single electronic alternative).

    Also, as we all know, when the system crashes you have no access.
    Would we dare to entrust our entire collections to electronic systems? Would we want to be without books of any kind every time our computers crashed or there was a power cut or we could not recharge our hand-held?

    I think (and hope) that a hard-copy-free world is a very very long way off, and may never come at all.

  2. Pete says:


    I agree. Where e-books are held up as the future, it is less for switching between ‘books’ so much as hyperlinking, connectivity to online dictionaries etc. That is where they will make their place I think. But yes, owing to the much-loved haptic qualities of books, they will be with us for a long time. Both/and, not either/or.

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