Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Where the Past Never Dies

In a recent issue of the e-mail book world newsletter “Shelf Awareness,” the “Quotation of the Day” came from a bookseller opening a new shop on September 1, who said he thought of a bookstore as a “cultural anachronism.” He meant it (as one would have hoped) in the best possible way:
... A place where time itself seems to slow. People linger. Few are ever in much of a rush or put out by a line. We've all made a decision about what we value more than a discount.

Maybe this is what people really mean when they talk about their love of the smell of a bookstore. The anachronism of ink and pulp amidst the daily sterility of point and click.

If you are interested in more of what Brad had to say, follow this link.

My own experience (24+ years of running my own indie bookstore in northern Michigan) tells me that many people my age who deserted print books are coming back to them and, moreover, that much younger people, who grew up with electronics and take them for granted, are discovering physical books with wonder and awe. One lovely day near the end of summer three girls in their early teens were combing my shelves for the oldest books they could find that would fit their budgets. Their eager questions about copyright and printing dates or lack thereof led me to point out differences in paper quality, binding, and illustration. They could not have been more attentive. They purchased their treasures and came back in the afternoon for Round 2, eagerly shopping the past. A couple of weeks before that a young father had earnestly impressed on his child that “This book was published when Thomas Jefferson was alive!” Yes, he bought that book, too.

Some scholars and commentators have remarked, in loving, neutral, or derogatory language, depending on their own perspectives and purposes, on books as “fetish objects.” (Here is a sampling of articles—x, y, z—and you can easily find more yourself.) I would remind those who look down on our love for physical books that we ourselves are physical creatures, not immaterial angels but living, breathing animals, borne of earth, mortal, gravity-bound, and conscious of our ultimate earthly destiny, death. Is it any wonder, facing our own time limits, that we are fascinated by objects that predated our births and can easily live far beyond us? The added attraction of these artifacts, of course, is that they contain thoughts – dreams – ideas – memories – which means that human minds can outlive human bodies and speak beyond the grave to later generations.

Part of my life-long fascination with Modern Library books is their hand-friendly size, and there is something quite endearing about books that size or smaller to many book-lovers, so you can easily see how this tiny volume, printed in Glasgow in 1836, charms me for its size and its binding. The ninth edition of The National Minstrel: A Collection of Popular Songs, containing only lyrics, no music, you might expect as I did to find numerous copies available, but I found the work only in libraries. (All the photos in today's post are of this little book.) Doubtless because it was so common and widely printed and purchased, the little book was not considered valuable in its time and so was not carefully preserved. As with those once-ubiquitous Dick-and-Jane readers, however, its survival intact is what today gives value to The National Minstrel. Its rarity – and its charm.

No comments: