exploring art and writing

Paper.

In Books, Bookshop, Literature on March 15, 2013 at 4:12 pm
'The House of Books Has No Windows' Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, 2008.Installation with approx. 5000 second hand books. Dimension: 200 x 175 x 110 cm © Cardiff/Miller

‘The House of Books Has No Windows’ Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, 2008.
Installation with approx. 5000 second hand books. Dimension: 200 x 175 x 110 cm © Cardiff/Miller

Last week I was asked an intriguing question. As I sat in a bookshop, ensconced in spines of fiction and antique-stained wooden shelves, I was asked who the bookshop’s human equivalent would be were it left to my imagination.

It was left to my imagination for about five minutes. All I could think of, unimaginatively, was books. There were just so many compared to what I’m used to (and I work in a bookshop, so I’m really used to them). Eight shelves high, squeezed together, piled on top. A paper heaven.

No wonder that I couldn’t stop thinking of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The House of Books Has No Windows. (Thoughts on which I’ve posted here). A mysterious exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in 2008, I can recall stacks of books sculpted to create a little house that could be crawled into, hardbacks placed next to giant megaphones and even more books on the floor and on shelves, all lit by yellow spotlights. I can’t tell if I’m remembering any of this right. And then, sitting in a bookshop all these years later, I remember my own bookcase at my parent’s house, still creaking with triple-stacked art tomes and foxed paperbacks.

After my excursion to the bookshop I arrived home that night and looked at my e-reader. Such a slight and unobtrusive object. As if trying to make a point it was sitting on a box of books that was taped and ready to be shipped to another city. Of the seven books that I have on the reader, two I’ve bought in paperback since first reading the digital copy. All the rest of the books that I’ve read since Christmas…well, I just bought the paper version to begin with.

I’m familiar with the benefits of an e-reader and feel genuinely open to praising them wholeheartedly. But I can’t help it: if I love a book I desire the paper that it’s printed on. And I know that paper books don’t light up when I’m reading at night, but surely that’s what lamps are for?

Cicero said it with more romance: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” So I’ve come to a compromise. From now on my shelves will be graced by books that are potent enough to inspire what only a great book can: the desperate need to place it in the hands of anyone who I think will listen.

That’s one thing you definitely cannot do with e-readers. That and build a small house out of them. That just wouldn’t work.

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