Considering this site has a decidedly technophile bent, it may strike some (well, not Kassia) as odd that I am so preternaturally focused on the oh-so-very-old-school world of books. Perhaps it’s because I have spent my entire adult life working in libraries (full disclosure: I am not a librarian, thank goodness).
So this week I attended my first rare book club meeting, where sad to say, the median age of the other attendees was “dead.” I think a few permanently left our golden orb somewhere between the departure of the salad and the arrival of the soup at the French restaurant near downtown Los Angeles where the thirty-five odd (and I mean “odd”) people gathered.
Not to get all ageist on my gentle readers, but this is a preface to saying that being thirtysomething, I look around and see my fellow Gen-Xers just don’t seem to be all that interested in collecting fascinating, if musty, tomes anymore. It used to be great sport back in the day to have succesfully collected, for instance, every volume of the sacred Zamorano 80 books on Californiana (no, that’s not a misspelling). You were lifted to the ranks of bibliophilic Valhalla, feted by your brethren-in-arms every bit as much as Audie Murphy in a New York ticket tape parade.
I think I’m a bit of an anomaly, having spent most of my student aid at UCLA in the early 90s plunking down money for antiquarian books, such as a Latin edition of Pliny from the 16th century (WTF? I don’t even read Latin!) or a nineteenth century 4-volume History of Sicily with its pages uncut–which of course conjures to mind the scene in Spinal Tap where Nigel Tufnel shows Marti de Bergi the guitar that can never be touched nor played. I have some other odds and ends, including an amazing 18th century annotated map of the U.S. that shows the entire Western half of the country as a “Vast Tract of Land Unknown” and declares the small town of Pittsburgh “a fit place for a factory.” But again, I don’t know too many others like me.
My point of all this is to say that rare book clubs are fine and dandy, if you can join them (Southern California’s hyper-exclusive Zamorano club is limited to 80 members, and one has to die before anyone else can be admitted–talk about macabre!). But these days, in a vastly more exciting world of iPods, Wiis, and giant-screen TVs, what are they doing to encourage interest in the field? In some of my more lurid dreams I see myself as one of the last knights of the old order, fighting off the encroaching darkness of a Google-led world that has digitized everything, making all physical books instantly redundant and thus disposable by some administrator/bean counter’s estimation. This is a future I shudder to see come to pass, but the whispers seem to get louder and louder as the price of real estate to store miles of largely unused books soars through the stratosphere.
The whole discussion about whether students these days are even READING books is for another post altogether. Here at the university where I work, the Boomer-aged professors I talk to often bemoan the fact that the students don’t read many, if any, of the books they assign and rely more on Wikipedia for information than anything else.