Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ode to Books and Cases

I love bookcases almost as much as I love staircases, from a design point of view. (I love it even more when they combine.) I love when they are combined as well. I remember lining up my Babysitter's Club and Boxcar Children and American Girl series just so in the bookcase in the playroom I shared with my sister. These books went on the top shelf, where she couldn't reach. I couldn't really reach them either, unless I stood on the couch.

Later on, we got another bookcase, and lined it with an encyclopedia set a relative gave us, as well as a series on different countries of the world, with statistics for each. I loved browsing those books, and had to stack my young adult novels double, for lack of room. I wrote a report extolling the benefits of ebooks for a 7th grade class, but inside winced at the thought of giving up paper novels. I loved the smell of new ones from Barnes and Noble, and was familiar with the smell of fusty ones that I got from the school library. You cannot spend much time reading and loving books without also falling a little bit in love with their shape and feel.

As an ex-pat, however, it made a lot of sense for me to get a Kindle. It's difficult to find books in English in Taiwan. Plus, if I continue to travel, putting a Kindle in my purse makes a lot more sense than mailing boxes of books. Yet that is what my boyfriend is doing right now. We have a bookcase in our living room, completely full, filled with books that my boyfriend took with him from home, books that people who left Taiwan left with him, and books that I bought in a spending spree at a closing Borders. He thought he might leave the books here, but then he thought that he wanted our kids to be able to read the books in the future. One of his favorite memories is of browsing the bookcases in his grandparents' home.

From one level to another.
I have memories too, of looking at illustrated fairy tale books, encyclopedias filled with photographs and graphs, and a particularly good green thesaurus that my mother had. Because of Google, the internet is very specific. You can search and find exactly what you are looking for. The internet is also full of links that allow you to wikiwalk, but try as they might, web designers cannot replicate the experience of flipping through the pages of a good reference book.

When we went to Costco recently, I thought about how I wanted that for my children, especially when they are small. While technology is great, turning physical pages and looking at non-backlit screens is important for young children.  Books are also by definition curated. A bookcase, by definition, is limited, and a limited choice is often less stressful. Of course, my boyfriend and I probably will squirrel away many books on our ebooks and computers, and probably invest more in books on art and other visual media. My 2nd cousin once removed told me of how she and her brother encountered Frida Kahlo in one of her mother's books.

That is why, some time in the future, when my boyfriend and I have children, we will have real books, and bookcases. I dream of putting books in ascending order; the picture books on the bottom where my children can reach them, and books on "serious issues" on the top shelves where they can reach when they are older. I hope that they will love toddling over to the bottom rungs to pull out their favorite story, that one day they will stand on their toes to reach for a book that interests them, and I hope that they will always strain to reach ever higher.

Staircase of Light
Besides, I think that as Millenials start getting more money and grow out of our hipster phase, we may start investing in books the way we invest in Facebook pictures and twitter posts—as in, we will use them as identity markers. Sure, we may read bodice-ripper romances on our Kindles, but we’ll keep The Omnivore’s Dilemma on our reclaimed wood bookshelves. Also, the pendulum may swing the other way when the printing industry starts to promote "Real Books from Real Trees for Real People."

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