Books as Props?

You may have read it too:  that piece in the New York Times Magazine about using books as art, design props, planters, wallpapers, furniture, hiding places for other things.  The creative uses of books, wrote Rob Walker, that “do not involve engaging with words on a page.”  I thought of the stack of books by my bed — nothing creative there. And the little piles of books on stage sets and in houses being readied for sale. Walker refers to the “plenitude” that having books once represented (a library, after all, meant that not only did you have the bucks to buy but the time to read and enjoy all your books).  Then I think of the 200-year-old Salem Athenaeum (a small, historic membership library in Salem MA where I spend some time), and the  shoestring struggles it has to preserve, clean, and store beloved old book collections.  No plenitude there, although it strives to maintain its traditional place as a center of intellectual discovery and discourse.  But like many who still resist the charms of Kindle, who still consider an evening with a printed hardcover to be nirvana, and who would rather buy than borrow a book, I fear for the future of the medium.  I do seriously wonder about the value that future generations will place on printed books.   As a personal historian, my preference is to collect the memories and stories of others and bind them into books that can be passed down, dog-eared, foxed, faded, and frayed with love, and put on visible shelves to remind of the past.  This might be a small lament for what I think might eventually happen to printed books.   Perhaps I will just need to quietly keep doing my part to hold it off …  (August 14, 2010)

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