Slate media critic Jack Shafer recently lamented that he no longer reveres books as he once did. Shafer said that he once collected books, stacked them in his home, fondled their covers,and honored authors and books' transcendent cultural value. Now, he says, he rarely if ever even attends a book party.
Book party invitations seem a superficial manifestation of a love for books, but I know what Shafer means. I also don't experience the passion for books I once had. Once the publication of "big" fall books excited me, but no more. I still go to bookstores and libraries, yet it more and more feels out of habit than enthusiasm.
My home is loaded with books from years of collecting. A few old favorites I take down to re-read, such as my old graybound "Norton Anthology of English Literare, Vols. I and II," from my college days. I like being surrounded by books, as Anthony Powell's title said, books do furnish a room. Yet, I do not purchase as many books today as I once did. Fewer and fewer books do I find interesting enough to take home on impulse.
Still, I maintain a stack of books beside my living room chair. Although I detect a falloff in my passion for books, I still feel satisfaction at discovering an interesting book at the library. Poetry books especially still excite me. Perhaps I'm just not taken by those books heralded by arbiters like the Sunday New York Times Book Review. Books still matter to me, but as Shafer reflects, their hold is weakening. I am undoubtedly affected my the general drop in books' importance, along with that of newspapers, magazines and literary journals.
Shafer made an interesting comment about the rise of the Kindle and the e-book, that perhaps they would put the emphasis on reading, not the book. I once considered books, with their cover designs, photographs and artwork, as works of art. With the Kindle, they are more and more vehicles of information and entertainment, not artifacts. Shafer could be right that such devices indicate the primacy of content, the irrelevance of form.