As I sit here, I am surrounded by books. At the periphery of my vision, on either side of my desk, there are tall bookshelves filled with volumes. Somewhere in the dark behind me (I’m writing very early and my office/bedroom is being used for both purposes) there is a stack of books on my nightstand. There are books in my closet, for goodness sakes (I wrote all of those, and they are stacked neatly in boxes). The rest of the house is the same, and my dear reader, I would venture to guess that your homes are similarly accoutered. We are the past of books.
My children are the future of books. I have two still at home, and one who has moved out and is setting up her own tiny nest, well-feathered with her own things, and furniture the parental units set her up with. Which didn’t include a bookshelf. Well. There were bookshelves. But that’s not what they are being used for, in the most part. The Ginja Ninja collects, customizes, and sometimes sells Furbies. So her shelves are full of this wild colorful display of Furbs. And her pet fish in his tank, Red Herring. I think there are a few books on one shelf. But the pride of place in her living room is the big entertainment center with the monitor perched on top where she can connect her Switch and play games that involve feeding cute critters and breeding black roses (I think. They told me in detail but it certainly wasn’t connected to genetics). The two at home each have a single 6′ tall bookshelf, that is… Well. The Little Man (who is taller than I, but prefers his nom d’blog remain the same) was deep cleaning his room recently and burst out to where I was in the living room to announce to me “you have to stop giving me books.”
“I haven’t got any room for them! My shelf is full!”
“We could get you another shelf.”
Some time later… “I take that back. I made room on my shelf. I’ll take more books.”
His books, if you were curious, tend to be… well, they aren’t, mostly, antiques. The word is vintage. Antique, in the definition I apply, means more than a hundred years old. Unless it’s a car, and then there are cars younger than I which are antique. Vintage covers the area from antique to ‘modern’ and includes anything up to about 40 years old. To the dismay of my First Reader, as Mid-Century Modern furniture, cookware, and so on is now vintage and highly collectible. “That’s stuff my Mom had on the table when I was a boy.”
“They want how much for it?”
So the boy has a shelf full of history books, some of which were not history when they were written, and I have a tendency to gift him old books on mechanical and engineering stuff. Like the book on microwaves that has nothing to do with cooking food. You might not yet see a theme here, but I certainly do from the ground level. The younger generation isn’t not reading. They just tend to not read paper books and then keep them.
It’s not that they don’t read in paper. The pastel Goth who lives in our house and is currently vividly purple-haired likes to read when she has time, mostly YA fiction of the more lurid sort (although never sex scenes. Ew, ick, ick, there’s spit in that). They just don’t keep the paper books. And they read, prolifically, but..
“I don’t read.”
“Fan-fiction is reading, dear. How many fan-fics do you follow?”
Phone pings, she looks at her screen. She looks back at me, a little pink in the face. “That’s a new chapter!”
The Ginja Ninja called me up the other day, all flustered. After a minute, I found out what the matter was. She had been looking at an ebook set she thought she would like to buy, was trying to figure out how to put it on her debit card, and inadvertently bought them using my information (we have a family account). I told her that was fine. When have I not been willing to buy them a book? Inwardly? I was doing a little happy dance. I have been trying to get them using my ebook library for some time now. If I can get them reading ebooks, I will have created another generation of readers. It seems my plans are proceeding.
It’s not that I think paper is dead. I don’t. Books as works of art… Sigh. POD books will never again rise to the level of some of the books that I have collected. We are relics of another age, those of use who worry about the floors caving in from weight of books. And even in our own generation, we were a peculiar lot. My First Reader talks about not being allowed to own books, as a boy. His mother read magazines, and those she hid when she wasn’t reading. And none of them read in front of his father, who would fly into a rage if he caught them. The emergence of a lifelong bookworm from that environment is a minor miracle. My reading was fostered and encouraged, like I am doing with my kids.
That’s the best we can do, for the future of books. Teach the children their worth. Not just as works of art, but as repositories of knowledge. Will my kids read for entertainment, with all the internet and movies and video games at their fingertips? Yes. Not like I did. But I had none of that. I grew up with no TV in the house – a rarity for my time. They have many options. I don’t regret that. And I don’t regret seeing them reading their online fictions that aren’t necessarily books, in the way us old fuddy-duddies think of them. I’d like to see them stretch into exploring other fiction… it seems they are, finally, doing that as well. What I’m not going to do? Force them to ‘read the classics.’
That’s the surest way to kill any enjoyment in reading. I want them to like reading. Like Pavlov’s dogs, trained to associate a bell with a treat. Open the covers of a book, and your mind whirs into gear, and it feels good. Yeah. That’s the way to give books a future.