Lately there is a frightening feeling in the air that books might by on a direct line heading from passé to obsolete. The average reader seems to have turned away from buying books to contemplating purchasing a new IPad or caving into a kindle. Numerous newspaper articles and internet stories continue to tell us that statistically speaking, the majority of people do their “reading” on a screen. This might be true but the truth remains that we need more books.
We need more books and the places that house them. Remember when we all blamed the big chain stores for the demise of small, independent bookstores? Well, we had a right to be angry but now Borders is gone and the big multi-storied Barnes and Nobles across from Lincoln Center in New York City is now a clothing store. So we order books on Amazon (with due resentment for its contribution. to the closing of even more local stores) but we need books and so we buy them there. But we don’t just need to buy, we need to browse and linger and touch and experience.
Last week I was talking with a group of five people who aren’t big readers. But we all agreed we need more books. Our eyes hurt from reading the computer screen, and we want to be able to turn a page. We all expressed our deep need to indulge our olfactory senses and breathe in that unique real book smell while we see and touch and hear the page turn.
So what kinds of books do we need? Well, more than we have. Our curiosity about the world continues to grow in a way that goes beyond the restriction of subjects that fall within the curriculum standards. As I mentioned on our Facebook page, a devoted fifth grade teacher is trying to find a book that discusses what happens after people die but she hasn’t been able to find anything. A sixth grader told me he was interested in books about doctors but I haven’t been able to come up with anything. In the past year or two, children’s nonfiction has continued to expand to include more variety of subjects such as biographies on adult authors and musicians that most children have probably never even heard of before. So there are some signs that some risks are being taken and that we will have more choices. But it’s really not enough, not yet. Because there is a need to know that Wikipedia cannot mollify. Clearly, we need more books.
It might seem an act of futility to argue for the need for more books when signs point to a slow, painful end. But sometimes a true fan is rewarded for continuing to support the cause through the leanest of times. If you’re a Knick fan, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It was the early 1970s the last time an Ivy League graduate* joined the team and ignited a bunch of talented teammates to play exciting basketball and win the championship. Stranger things have happened. We are, as always, talking nonfiction after all.
*Bill Bradley, Princeton graduate, New York Knicks forward, #24.