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No End to Books

October 11, 2008

One of the irritating things about people more clever than I (aside from their seeming ubiquity) is that they often say the same thing I said but in a much better way. Back in June I rambled for a while about how I didn’t think books would be replaced by other text media. In this month’s Chronicle of Higher Education, Thomas Benton talks much more eloquently about the same topic in an article called “Yearning After Books.” He writes his article in the helpful form of a survey of the surprising number of recent books that take up the subject in various ways. Among the others things Benton notes is my own point that a love of books has as much to do with materiality as it does with content.

The point that hit home the most for me was a quote from Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night: “The birth of a new technology need not mean the death of an earlier one: The invention of photography did not eliminate painting, it renewed it, and the screen and the codex can feed off each other and coexist amicably on the same reader’s desk.” That seems to be the case. As Benton notes, the much-heralded “death of the book” has not happened and looks likely not to. The fact that we keep obsessing on the book’s imminent demise doesn’t mean it is actually imminent. That’s a good thing.

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