Down the stairs, onto the porch, into the truck, up a different set of stairs...are all those book boxes we've lugged from college to first apartment, from first apartment to our first home, from city to city, becoming a thing of the past? The debate about e-books is one thing, but when we start talking about whether to simply get rid of all the books - as some of us have done with records, and then CDs and DVDs - it feels like the distant drummer is right outside on that porch. In today's New York Times, Nick Bilton, a converted e-book reader, struggles with what to do with his print book collection before he moves from NYC to San Francisco, and readers respond in the comments.
I've thought about the same thing, of course. When we moved from Vermont to Montreal two summers ago, we culled a third to a half of our large book collection, but brought the rest. They were one of the first things we unpacked, because filled bookshelves are one of the things that make us both feel at home; arranging a bookshelf has to be one of the most satisfying acts in establishing a new place, and rearranging it can be cathartic and symbolic. Dismantling the library of someone we've loved is like taking a final walk with them, and almost always contains revelations. Like some of the commenters on Bilton's article, I can't imagine a home without books; to me they are the soul of a home, a collection that is open to be "read" not only by their owners but by visitors who stand and browse the titles: a short course in the characters of the book collectors themselves.
But the last four books I've read have been e-books (read on both my PC and my android) and I can feel myself sliding into greater acceptance of the new media. I buy books more selectively now than I ever did, partly because I don't want to acquire a lot more things and partly because English-language books are more difficult to get here in Quebec. But I do still buy them -- the ones I know I'll want to keep, poetry and certain novels especially -- and can't imagine a time when I won't.
Music? I haven't bought a physical CD in a very long time, and we moved our entire music collection to mp3s. Are the two media parallel? Will print books go the way of CDs eventually? Or will we continue to have bookshelves - perhaps housing smaller collections -- for the comfort they give, and because, like art, they are objects that we like to see every day, both for their beauty, and for the way they chart our path through life?
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