Thursday, April 21, 2011

For We are Never Finished with Our Not Dying

That's a line from a Rilke poem. Maybe he was prophetically referring to the book:

It is perhaps a symptom of print’s decline that the current conversation about the book’s demise has forgotten all these other ones. Instead we shuttle between two equally hollow poles: goofball digital boosterism a la Negroponte on one side and on the other a helpless, anguished nostalgia for the good old days of papercuts. Call it bibilionecrophilia: the retreat of the print-faithful into a sort of autistic fetishization of the book-as-object—as if Jeff Bezos could be convinced to lay e-profits aside by recalling for a moment the soft, woody aroma of a yellow-paged Grove Press paperback; as if there were nothing more to books than paper, ink, and glue.

For the record, my own loyalties are uncomplicated. I adore few humans more than I love books. I make no promises, but I do not expect to purchase a Kindle or a Nook or any of their offspring. I hope to keep bringing home bound paper books until my shelves snap from their weight, until there is no room in my apartment for a bed or a couch or another human being, until the floorboards collapse and my eyes blur to dim. But the book, bless it, is not a simple thing.

The essay, which is actually pretty interesting, is called, yes, "The Death of the Book." (I wonder if it's too late to trademark that phrase and make a mint.) I'm eagerly awaiting the essay proclaiming the death of grandiloquent proclamations of the death of this or that object or tradition. Ooh, meta.