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Books is books

Years ago there was a TV commercial for Wendy's, the fast food chain, that had the line, "Parts is parts." It was in reference to chicken sandwiches and was actually intended to be derogatory, as other chains (read "MacDonald's") were selling a chicken sandwich made from "processed chicken" whereas Wendy's chicken sandwich was a chunk of breast meat. "Parts is parts," was the answer to a potential other-chain's customer's question about which parts of the chicken went into the processed sandwich.

In spite of the nature of its original use, I tend rely on that line when someone asks about the differences between books and ebooks. Some people just plain love printed books as objects, things they want to own. That's fine, but owning and reading are two different things. I'm much more concerned about how much people read than how many books they own. Some people rely mostly on public libraries for their reading. At the other extreme, some people buy lots of print books that they never actually read. I consider that the first set of folks are, in fact, better for authors and publishers.

Today's Washington Post has an essay called “As electronic readers gain popularity, what happens to the personal library?”, by Post staff writer Philip Kennicott. Interestingly, in print the title reads “The home library fades away, part of the framework of our lives.”

The essay starts with a recollection of a time when Kennicott was at a boring party in a mansion and escaped to the beautifully but artificially furnished library where he sat down and read a Shakespeare play. He considers that a room designated for reading is a special place, to be treasured. My biggest argument with his reasoning is in this bit:

“But while most of us would never claim to have a home library — too pretentious — we secretly think of some room in the house as . . . the library. A place to read, to store books, to confront the past and future of our own limited knowledge, staring down at us in all its complicated categories: books you will read, books you should read, books you read and remember, books you read and forgot, lousy books your aunt gave you and you can't throw away because she still comes to visit from time to time.”

Really? While I have always had lots of books in the house, I never thought of any one room in as a library, not in any house I ever lived in. Have any of you? I did use to read in my walk-in closet (which I did not have until I was in my teens), but that was only so that no one would bother me while I was reading. I certainly didn't keep any books in there.

Kennicott goes on to say that the eReaders will make the home library go the way of “separate dining room and the formal parlor.” It seems to me he's bewailing the passing of something that doesn't, for the most part, exist now and never really existed except in upper-class houses. But of course, at the end he suggests what he will miss most is the relationship with those books that sit on the shelves but will never be read.

The essay is part of a series of book-centric articles in the Arts & Style section that discuss how important books are. In another article, people in differnet professions talk about the specific books that influenced them. In other, Katheryn Stockett describes how she came to write her bestselling debut novel The Help.
And finally, a second essay by Blake Gopnik makes the case for reading weighter books while on vacation, instead of taking only fluffy escapist reading to the beach.

All of the other articles illustrate the point that is the content of the books that matters most. I am all for people buying books and owning books, but I think reading is the verb that matters most where books are concerned, and as far as reading goes, “Books is books.”

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 16th, 2010 12:36 am (UTC)
I have a home library (my parents and my grandparents did too, so I suppose it's a family tradition). I built in three walls of bookshelves in my last house's living room, and when I moved I was lucky enough to find a house with extensive shelving already in place in one room. I have a couple of thousand books there. That being said, I have very rarely met anyone else with a similar room-- even the people who originally owned this house mostly used the shelves for knickknack display, not books. I've known a few people with book-lined walls, but it's rare. So I don't think home libraries are all that common, or "part of the framework of our lives." Sure, plenty of people keep a stack of books on their nightstand to read, but that's not really the same thing, is it?

Anyway, it really doesn't matter to me if my home library is on my walls or on my Kindle. In fact, one of the major drawing points of the Kindle is that at some point, a person who accumulates books (and who isn't incredibly wealthy) will realize they've acquired more than can possibly be stored in a house. I realized this when I moved (box after box after BOX of books!), and recognized that the Kindle would help me stop accumulating even more paper books. I don't think this is a bad thing, really.
Aug. 16th, 2010 12:41 am (UTC)
Oh, we have shelves FULL of books-- two deep, for the paperbacks, which is not great because you can't see the back row. But I don't think of either of the of the rooms they're in as "the library." The living room is the living room, and the family room is the family room.

And you are exactly right about moving! that's when it hits you how many books you have, My mother used to mail them; 4th class (aka "book rate") was cheaper than the per pound cost the movers charged,
Aug. 16th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
We have a 'reading room' and I'm not talking about the toilet either :P

It has a wall-length set of bookshelves, a comfy sofa and chair/pouffe, but most importantly, no TV.
Aug. 16th, 2010 08:39 pm (UTC)
A reading room! I like that! Really, the gist of my post is that reading is more important than the books themselves.

Aug. 17th, 2010 09:49 am (UTC)
And more fun than just staring at the covers :)
Aug. 17th, 2010 08:15 pm (UTC)
Well, I guess that depends on the cover...
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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