I happened to come across this article recently while browing the Web. I like the line of thinking it presents into the debate about the loss of the printed word–the idea that our personal libraries are a means of mapping our mental journies. The article doesn’t examine the idea of books themselves but rather the concept of the bookshelf.
Author Nathan Schneider writes, “Modern life, if we can still call it that, occurs as a sequence of gleeful apocalypses. One world constantly gives way to another. If it doesnâ€™t, â€œconsumersâ€â€”as people now call themselvesâ€”get anxious. Weâ€™re familiar with the drill: new audio/video formats arrive every decade; a new â€œgenerationâ€ of cell phone every couple years; and, on a rolling basis, thereâ€™s the expectation that several totally unexpected paradigm shifts are in the worksâ€”the internet, global climate change, a new fundamental particle, and that sort of thing.”
If you enjoy the books of Alberto Manguel as much as I do, you will be familiar with this way of thinking about books and what they mean for our culture. For readers, the books on the shelf mean more than the information they contain; they are maps of our inner creation. Schneider writes, “In the age of inexpensive, printed books, our memory theaters have become both richer and more banal; we have entrusted them to our bookshelves rather than to tricks of mental contortion or cosmic schemata. As I look over my own shelf, I see my life pass before my eyes. The memories grafted onto each volume become stirred and awakened by a glance at the spine, which presents itself to be touched, opened, and explored. Without the bookshelfâ€™s landscape to turn to, that manifest remainder from a lifetime of reading, how would one think? What would one write?”