Are Books Dead?

I apologise. Yesterday I did a funny little Style Icons post about two of our leading political ladies, Julia Gillard and Carla Bruni, and what they do and don't have in common. (Both favour form-fitting suits. Both eschew sartorial fussiness. And Carla is reportedly a big proponent of the power of pelvic exercises. However, I can't say for sure whether our Jules is. Only her partner Tim and possibly her sexy personal bodyguard know that secret.) Anyhow, after downloading a particularly intriguing image of our Jules, strange things started happing on my laptop. Files disappeared. Entire paragraphs flashed like lights on Times Square. Terrified of the dreaded 'V' word (and passing it onto you lovely readers), I immediately deleted the post. It was too late. The laptop is now in the Apple hospital having a triple heart bypass, and I am using an old MacBook and an archaic Safari browser. Which doesn't support Blogger.

But I'm persevering because I want to tell you about the significance of this week. March 1st  is World Book Day. It's the biggest literary celebration of its kind, and is designated by UNESCO as a world-wide celebration of books, reading and stories of all forms. More than 100 countries mark the date. I'm very proud of those countries. More should do it.

I grew up in a house full of books. Because my brother and I read so fast my frugal parents (who were both teachers) thought it a waste to buy books for us and told us to go and get a library card. We duly did what we were told. It was the start of a love affair with books, bookshops and libraries that has lasted 30 years. Last night I told my partner that if a bushfire came up the mountain, I would leave everything except my beloved books. Books are the one thing you should always save.

I spent most of last year lamenting the slow death of books in this, the iPad-and-Kindle age. Judging by the number of Google hits on the phrase "Are books dead?" (11 million and counting), many others did too. During a moment of literary lamentation, a wise and famous writer challenged me by asking "Well, what is a book anyway? Is it its body? Or its soul?"Well, I'm old-fashioned girl and I think books need a body. Just as humans need their spines to live and move, so, too, do books. An e-book can still be a great read (and like many I love the convenience of iPads), but a book with a jacket and pages and that papery smell of promise... now that is a beautiful thing. That, my dear friends, is a book. A soul without a body is a mere ghost of its former self.

Curiously, many people seem to think the same way. Last Christmas, many bookshops had their best sales season ever. My favourite bookshop, Avenue in Albert Park, sold more copies of my books than at any other time. I was as puzzled as you are. What does it possibly all mean? Well, I think it means that many of us are trying to save books from being endangered. From sinking into oblivion. We are stock-piling our stories – just like Carlos Ruiz Zafon's celebrated library in The Shadow of the Wind.

Sadly I fear it's too little, too late. The end of the book might be nearer than we think. One newspaper believes there will be no books left at all by 2020. None. And I admit that it's easy to see how e-books will win the reading war. 

And so I say this to you all. Read. Read. Read. Or as my Italian teacher used to say "Leggi! Leggi! Leggi!" Buy books. Download the e version if you have to, but don't discount the paper versions either. Embrace books. Remember how wonderful they are. For I am afraid there will come a time when most of us will stop reading them completely. When we will be distracted by other things. Such as Twitter. And gossip sites. And the Oscars. And life. Left for dead, books will disappear. And some of the world's greatest stories will then be lost forever.

"The art of reading is slowly dying. Great readers are becoming more scarce by the day..." 
– Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Shadow of the Wind.

There is a wonderful game lots of people are now playing called Page 61. You pick up a book, flick to page 61 and read the fifth sentence down. I loved reading some of the discoveries, such as:

"Great elephants!" said Gandalf. "You are not yourself this morning! You have not dusted the mantelpiece!" (From The Annotated Hobbit)
In later life, Dottie had a dog called Woodrow Wilson." (From The Uncollected Dorothy Parker)

I was quietly thrilled to see one of my books mentioned on a Page 61 website. The Page 61/Fifth Line was: "And, perhaps, also for their souls". It made me quiet for a moment or two. But then when I picked up my nearest book a few minutes ago – an old, much-loved dictionary that I still refer to – and saw what the fifth line on page 61 was – 
bibliophile   n. book lover 

I was moved beyond words.

"To add a library to a house is to give that house a soul" – Cicero

I agree Cicero. I agree.

The above images are from one of my favourite libraries, a private library on the island of Nantucket in the US. Designed by my favourite book-loving architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, the entire house is white – and I mean everything is white, from the stairs to the living room. The blank canvas was an intentional design move. Jacobsen and the owner felt that the books were the most important things in the house, and as such they were given first priority. The minimalist, all-white backdrop offered a kind of gallery for their literary beauty. Now, the only colours in the house are the bright tones of all the spines. Truly lovely, don't you think? 

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