This week, a major feature in our local newspaper, pulled from the Associated Press, addressed the use of books in interior decorating. The hitch was that the books were being used for just about everything except reading.
The argument was since no one “wants” to keep books in our digital age, we must find “better” uses for them, “repurpose” them in the current parlance. Designers are urged to fill bookcases with decorative spines chosen for their outer appearance not the inner beauty of their words. Buy books by the foot at estate sales, we are told, or buy them by color. If they are old, worn, they can add the feeling of culture to a home. Use books to build unique furniture. Perhaps to add a bit of sophistication to the bathroom instead of passé paper rolls—the latter, I admit, is my own extrapolation.
As an author and a lifelong devotee of words, I was not only appalled, but angered. When I look at my full bookcases, I cannot help but feel a kinship to those authors who came before me. The author and title on each spine sets in motion remembrances, often the desire to experience that story once again. I read because I love words and language, because I love ideas and stories, because I love being transported to new and different places on our own world or on worlds I have never seen. I write because I love bringing some of my own ideas to life.
Great books, both fiction and non-fiction, are worth rereading. Sometimes it is because of the subject matter and the worthwhile ideas, sometimes because of the beauty of the language. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse come to mind in non-fiction, invaluable references if one is trying to understand our society and how we got where we are today and where we may be going. I cannot tell you how many times I have reread old and modern fiction classics like Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, Cooper’s Hawkeye saga, including The Last of the Mohicans, Verne’s Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea; Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Wright’s Islandia, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, Herbert’s Dune, Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. And I will read them again.
Most of the books above I own in printed versions. For my favorite authors I want hardback books for rereading. The feel of holding a book, the tactile sensation, adds to the experience for me. Like many people today, I use an e-book reader. This started largely because of the convenience for extended travel after my wife and I retired, but has become more important as my eyesight deteriorated. E-books are a boon in that sense, but they do not, cannot replace the printed book. I admit that the e-book of my novel, The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service, outsells the printed version by a goodly margin. This is no surprise in our digital age, but I get far more pleasure from signing a print copy and handing it to a new reader. There is a connection that can never be replaced.
There have been times when books have been banned or burned; that demonstrates the power of the written word such that some people who disagree with the ideas set forth were so afraid of them that they had to destroy them, at least in written form. Using books as interior decorating props or for building furniture may not be akin to banning or burning, but the relegation of the written word to a role that bears no resemblance to its value is a travesty.
Literature, the efforts of countless writers throughout history, is among the most enduring accomplishments of the human race. One of the most important and enduring institutions of mankind—libraries—were built to collect and preserve books. George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Books record that past—and predict our future. Books are for reading!