The End of Bookshelves and Meaning

Have you noticed lately that the apartments of some of the people you wind up dating are void of books? You may find yourself frantically searching for some insight into their interests only to find empty shelves and walls. It seems that gone are the days of shelves filled with DVDs, CDs, records, and books. Instead of books, there are generic prints from Ikea or mirrors from Winners, and any sign of personality or of taste in art or books are gone. Have eReaders taken away the need to self-identify with an author or genre? Or have they only taken away the means?

“Hey, check out my new Kobo Vox or iPad,” says my new beau. You can scroll through the vast selection to get an idea of what he likes to read. But how impersonal is that? Don’t get me wrong; I do like the compact nature and practicality of eReaders. It is amazing technology. I, too, am awed by new gadgets and their nifty applications. But I am also nostalgic for the days of smelling old books, running my fingers over their worn pages and covers, and squinting to read their notes or underlined passages of respected lovers and friends or of strangers we’d never know, connected to them only by their thoughts in the margins.

We used to bond with lovers and friends over books we love and love to hate. We’d connect over authors who inspire us and confuse us. I suppose we still do, but the sharing of books has changed, or been mostly lost—along with the inheriting of strangers’ books from used bookstores. Discussion and bonding over books has now lost some of its value. Sharing has now become just a matter of sharing an eReader or downloading a discounted book from Amazon.ca, a process that is too easy, and less meaningful. Like music, a book without a tangible product appears cheapened and technology is to blame for its devaluation and lack of essence.

Yes, essence. I value a book or CD more if it’s in the printed form. The tactical experience outweighs the convenience and price and cool factor associated with new gadgets. It means more to hold a book, and meaning is exactly what appears to be missing these days. Or am I wrong? Don’t even get me started on the joys of perusing an old bookstore and finding that one special copy of Gulliver’s Travels with a personal inscription dated 1964 (Dear John…). Yes, those personal touches make me smile.

So, next time you meet a new friend or a potential partner and you visit their apartment for the first time, only to discover white bare walls and standard black, white, and beige Ikea or disposable furniture, think twice. Where do your values lie? What really matters to you? Do you want to feel as disposable and as replaceable as the next gadget or newest cell phone? Do you want to be with someone who values convenience and flash over meaning and identity?

Here’s to nostalgia and the greatness of yesteryear. To clutter and personality, to eccentricity and intelligence. To those who like to cuddle up with a book each night and dog-ear the pages and underline their favourite passages.