Archive for August, 2010

Books as Props?

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

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)

To the Lake …

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Those of us who are devoting time to writing the histories of other people tend to forget that WE have recordable histories too — sometimes mundane, sometimes life-changing.  In writing to a colleague recently, I discovered that I have left unwritten my own childhood memories of a place that I know is by now so changed that it may no longer truly exist as it still does in my mind’s eye.  That alone is cause for grieving and then getting down to work immediately to  record the memory and be able to share it some day with my own children.  What triggered all this was reading  a tiny gem of an essay by E.B. White, about long-ago summers spent at “the lake.”  If you have not read it, drop everything now that it’s August, and find it at

As for your own “lake,”  do get to work on remembering it.  Soon.  It’s history worth keeping. (August 8, 2010)