Recently I've been hunting for a new apartment, and while measuring walls to see if my bookcase will fit, I have asked myself a terrifying question: In this day and age, with the internet and Kindles and Nooks and iPads and ebooks, do I still need a bookcase? Do we still need books?
I grew up loving books. I learned to read at an early age (according to my mother), and my copies of Eloise and Snow White were loveworn, with broken bindings and Oreo cookie smears on the pages. I grew up in a house full of books — both of my parents loved to read — and more than once, I wrote a school paper without going to the library — just using the volumes in our home, which included philosophy, biography, history, classic literature, mythology, biology, medical texts and juicy stuff like Scruples.
The mere presence of books implies knowing, worldliness, intellect, romance, possibility. Beauty and the Beast returns to the big screen tomorrow (this time in 3D) and as we all know, the pivotal moment — when you know their love is real — is when the Beast gives Belle a glorious library full of books. The train station bookstore in Martin Scorsese's Hugo is similarly wonderful — towering stacks of dusty tomes holding secrets and mysteries. (It was kind of bittersweet to read the set designer say that some of them were fake, made from fiberglass.) One of my favorite decor blogs, iSuwannee, regularly features a bookcase of the day.
But on the subway, more and more folks are toting e-readers. Borders closed up shops last year and we keep hearing about school libraries being turned into "media centers" with fewer books and more computers. I want to believe that there is no replacement for a book. The smell, the texture of the pages, the heft. I took two books on vacation with me — one of which was a hardcover — and finished them both, never worrying about them being exposed to a full day of sand and sun, the way I might with an electronic device. There is a warmth and a softness and a crafty quality found in printed matter that you'll never get from a cold electronic screen. (Or hot, thigh-burning laptop). Humans have used paper since Ancient Egypt and I think somewhere in our lizard brains we recognize it as natural and friendly. Still, I wonder: Is my love of books like someone else's love of the rotary phone? Or vinyl albums? Someday soon, will having a bookcase be as absurd as having a shelving unit that holds cassette tapes? I hope not. And yesterday, when I saw the video above — made by Sean Ohlenkamp and his wife — I realized I'm not the only one who thinks there's nothing quite like a real book.