Trouble with books

ST. ALBANS, Feb 20 – My kids will not want them – my books that is.

Hundreds of dusty old Penguins, Picadors, Corgis and Pans confer no value, no status. Out with ’em. Box ’em up. Cart ’em to Oxfam. Into the skip with ’em!

Some boomers are taking pre-emptive action already, I hear.

A St. Albans book-group recently strayed from considering ‘The Kite Flyer’ to mull what exactly one is to do with one’s books when one downsizes  from ‘family, detached, five-bedrooms’, to ‘twee terrace, with view of Abbey’.

Book spines

Light and space take precedence over shelving for Graham Greene, Thomas Hardy and Jean-Paul Sartre, it seems. Light is just so efficacious, so now. Sorry, JP.

LPs went decades ago and CDs, if not gone, are semi-gone, boxed up in the garage. But books are different, especially for readers of a certain imprint. They remind us of moments in our lives. We remember where we were, who we were with, life lived. We touch our past when we run our eyes over their spines. Is that a cigarette burn I spy on ‘Animal Farm’?

But this is all far too sentimental for the age of Apple and Amazon. De-materialisation rules. And books, well, real books are just too inconveniently physical.

And so they will go. The scene will be repeated hundreds, thousands, millions of times in the next couple of decades: books thudding into plastic crates, motes of dust in morning sunlight, girlfriend sneezing. Charities will cart a selected few thousand off to Africa. (This already happens.)

My ‘Palgraves Golden Treasury’, a small book I’ve had since I was eighteen will be ‘let go’, along with my two four-leaved clover leaves pressed within its pages. The book is a part of my soul. But who needs a soul in 2020, 2025, 2030 – the decade of death for many a book.

Book spines

That said, we still venerate books. Pictures of aged tomes are lovingly retweeted on Twitter. Some atavistic yearning for the comforting certainty of a hushed library beats within many of us. We instinctively know the rightness and beauty of it.

Yes, there will be a cull, disposing of a generation’s books will be the thing to do. It will happen, for the most part quietly and quickly. But, equally, there will be a counter movement. Isn’t there always? Value will be found in the humble Penguin, slowly and surely. Yet-to-be-born ‘bookies’ will discover a strange appeal in that slightly beaten copy of ‘Catcher in the Rye’. They may never buy a new book in their lives, but they will come to love the old survivors. They will collect them, in a geekish way at first perhaps. But then value will be found to exist in those foxed Penguins, Picadors, Corgis and Pans.

And then, don’t you know, by about 2050, the coolest thing in the world may just be to be seen sitting up in your pod on the moon reading a genuine 1975 paperback copy of Mervyn Peake’s ‘Titus Alone’ – worth about a hundred million NMDs (New Moon Dollars).

Still planning to throw my book away kids?


by R J Asew


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