Jake and I have nine bookshelves in our home. Most of them are full-sized, two of them are half-sized. And every one of them is overfull. We have books on tables, books on desks, a few stacks on the floor, and the lower surface of our coffee table is full. Not only are we both avid readers, but we like to collect books and curate our own little library. Most of our books are paperback, but a decent share are hardcover and for the most part we have read them all. There are, of course, a somewhat steady stream of new texts coming in, but we read quickly and share with each other and our friends. Eventually we will need to invest in new bookshelves or part ways with some the volumes in our beloved collection.
On our nine shelves, we have probably close to a thousand volumes ranging from art history to environmental policy, werewolves to opium dens, and comedy to tragedy. Most are non-fiction, but a few shelves are dedicated to comics, novels, and short stories. We have an art and design section and a psychology section, periodicals and religion.
Some of my favourites are Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Death By Black Hole, Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega novels, Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, Mark Z. Danielewski‘s House of Leaves, Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, Steven D. Levitt and Stephern J. Dubner’s Freakonomics, The Onion Book of Known Knowledge, and—of course—Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which I wrote about quite recently. I would readily recommend these books to anyone, and would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on any of them. (In addition to those above, Jake recommends the four books he’s reading at the moment: Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, Thomas Pikketty’s Capital, Diane McWhorter’s Carry Me Home, and Teju Cole’s Open City.)
Today there is a statistically not insignificant percentage of adults in the USA who haven’t read, and don’t plan to in the future, a book in the last year or more. This is the exact opposite of the goals of Accelerated Reader programmes in schools and municipal libraries. We spend a lot of time and energy encouraging children to read in hopes that the exposure will foster a lifelong love for reading and exploring the imagination. Unfortunately, far too often these readership programmes foster a lifelong disgust of reading in favour of television consumption, video game entertainment, and internet addiction. And while I work in visual entertainment and absolutely adore visual story telling in all its forms (especially film and video games), I think that reading is a far more personal and powerful experience. With a book it is your job to build the world and explore the story based on what the author shares with you, even with the most detailed visual descriptions a la J.R.R. Tolkien or George R. R. Martin. (What’s with the double Rs, you guys?)
I can’t imagine living in a home without books. Growing up we had access to many, many books at my parents’ house—including a plethora of nursing reference manuals and dictionaries and an entire leather-bound series of the Encyclopædia Britannica. While I never availed myself of my mother’s collection of Danielle Steel novels, my brother and I did spend a lot of time thumbing through the encyclopædia. It was fun to look up whatever popped into our heads, and it taught me a lot about how to conduct research and use the tools available to educate myself—skills I put to good use later in my high school and college years.
Whether you’ve got a physical copy in your hands or you’re holding on to an e-reader or tablet, books are an indispensable gateway to other worlds. Fiction or non-fiction, they allow us to access thoughts and ideas that we have never explored on our own. And that’s the magic of the medium. That’s why storytelling is so important. And that’s what’s so much fun about collecting them. So how do we encourage others, especially children, to pick up a book and fall in love with reading? By providing unlimited access. Everyone should have access to books, and that’s where the “digital book revolution” comes in. Exposure to reading and exploring is what will get people (children and adults alike) interested and invested in readying, but you can’t force someone to like something—and that’s where Accelerated Reader fails.
Personally, I prefer to have a physical copy of a book. But I’ve used e-readers and tablets, too! In fact, I went through most of Game of Thrones on Jake’s Kindle. While I was recovering from my appendectomy last fall I read a few of Patricia Briggs’ novels on my Nexus7 because I was literally unable to leave the house to pick up copies from Barnes & Noble. (My local bookstore doesn’t carry her novels.) I think that the access digital book formats give us is amazing! Never before has it been so easy to get your hands on a book and read as much as you want to. And even though we now have the world library at our fingertips, it’s still nice to hold the weight of a hardcover in your hand and smell the paper as you turn the page. There’s something tactile and sensual about hardcopy that the digital format just cannot replicate. I think that’s a big part of why we have our collection. And who doesn’t want to have their own library?!
Tell me: What are you reading? Which would you recommend to your friends and family? And what do you think about physical volumes versus e-books?