Sunday, April 5, 2015

Books: The Intelligent Accessory

A friend of mine in my writing group used to be an electrician. One day, his newest job took him to a nice house. Whoever was living there was making big bucks. It was a rich house. The owner actually had a personal library, a room from top to bottom with books lining the walls. Being a writer and avid reader, my friend was intrigued; it wasn't every day someone has their very own awe-inspiring library.

All the books were hardcover, leather bound, and very important looking, so he went over and pulled one off the shelf to leaf through the pages. It was in Cyrillic, he believes. In fact, every book in the library wasn't in English. It turns out, buying nice looking books in foreign languages is the most cost effective way to fill in a library.

The reason I bring this up is someone I met had their own version of this library. They bought a nice book stand. They decorated it. They went out and picked up old classics in hardback, the more obscure, the better. And all this featured prominently in their house. When I asked if they had read all these books, the response was, "Some of them."

The point wasn't to read the books and store them. It was to have these books as a talking piece when friends and family visit the house. Reading the books was less important than to hold up a fabricated image of intelligence. Let's be honest, books are as much of a social accessory to intelligence as glasses. Don't look at me, I didn't create social norms.

Books are like weights, they have a singular purpose. Weights want nothing more than to be picked up and worked on. Exercise equipment not being used around the house is its own personal tragedy. What's the point of its existence if it's not repped?

Books have one function and that is to be read. Sure, they can have other uses, such as door stoppers, keep papers from flying in the wind, makeshift stand, drink coaster, and forts for toy soldiers. I get little out of displaying books I have no intention of reading, as I do displaying weights to give others the impression I like to get my swole on every now and then.

My recent change has been to remove as many physical goods from my belongings as possible. Don't get me wrong, physical books are nice, but they sure do take up a lot of space. I much prefer my ebooks, where I feel making notes and highlights is a far better experience.

Sadly, complete ebook assimilation is not possible for me at the moment. Some phenomenal books I pick up have long been out of print, with no recent additions re-released or bare-bones ebook on the market. On the other hand, I'm just not made of money either. Publishers still haven't learned to price ebooks sensibly, although over the past year, great strides have been made.

Let's take Mort by Terry Pratchett for example. I read this recently for a SF/Fantasy book club I belong to after hearing the news of his passing. At $4, it makes sense for me to pick it up. What I lose out on a physical object, I make up for in instant gratification, and the publisher deals with none of the headache that comes with physical books. Now let's look at another great book I read, Creativity, Inc. At $12, it's a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. I'd rather pick up the physical copy in that comparison.

I bring up price, because the monetary investment is such a big component in the act of displaying for people. A nice library, no matter how big or small, shows the person that they invest into themselves, and in some way or fashion, self-worth is put into the equation. I know, I know, it shouldn't be, but like I said, I didn't create social norms. We just follow 'em.

What I think ebooks are great at is removing the showmanship and ego out of the entire deal. There's no real library to show off, unless you bring your tablet into somebody's face. And the function of books is brought back to their original purpose now that all the accessory-like tendencies have been removed. Nobody buys ebooks to show off, because nobody is impressed by how many bytes you have. Those books are bought to be read, and possibly read they shall be!