What Books Are

I’ve been thinking about the future of books. “Struggling to get anyone interested in your novel, old boy?” Well, yes, but I anticipated that. My daydreaming here is more about books and society than books and me.

Googling in the wake of this train of thought, I stumbled upon a 2006 New York Times article by technocrat journalist Kevin Kelly. In it, he says a truly appalling thing:

[books are] isolated items, independent from one another, just as they are on shelves in your public library. There, each book is pretty much unaware of the ones next to it.

Holy Christ. I didn’t know anyone, let alone someone who could be described as a man of words, was carrying around such a thought.

Books are not isolated. Books (plural) are a chorus. You might write a book to put your own subjective vision into the world but then it sits not in isolation but in the Grand Culture of collective human thought.

That’s what writing and publishing a book is. A contribution. A single unit of climate change in a centuries-old intellectual atmosphere.

That Kelly (a founder of Wired magazine, which I liked in its exciting early days in addition to my love of older media, not in opposition to them) doesn’t understand this is aggressively underlined by his “public library” example. The public library is precisely where a book is the least isolated. Public Libraries tend to use the Dewey Decimal Classification System, in which all books take their physical place in an ordered spectrum of knowledge.

While a single book might look isolated from others when its sitting on your bedside table, this “isolation” is only physical; it would remain a part of the Grand Culture even were it abandoned on the moon.

To a constant reader, one book leads to another. To even the most casual onlooker (or so I thought), one book is connected to all others whether overtly by reference or implicitly by its very existence.

This doesn’t have much to do with Escapology, does it? Sorry. But I know there are book and library lovers who keep an eye on this blog and I wanted you to share my shocked gasp.

Books! Get ’em while they’re hot. Or even just mildly warm.


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at www.wringham.co.uk/about.

One Response to “What Books Are”

  1. Tom says:

    Gasp indeed! I often browse the acknowledgement/bibliography sections at the end of a good read as potential stepping stones for more reading pleasure.

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