Loss & gain, or the fate of the book

The New Criterion has begun a series of articles on “the challenges posed by the digital revolution to the world of culture”, and the first piece in the series is by our man TD (h/t neunder). Ever the bibliophile, he writes about the future of the book, by which he means those sheets of paper that are bound together. He writes a bit about his own library, which Clint and I have had the pleasure of seeing in France, although he probably has one in Britain too. He and his wife refer to it as his dacha, which is clever because it’s only about 100 feet from their real home.
There is much to highlight in this piece, but I will quote this long passage about his library:
…I derive a certain comfort from looking over, and being surrounded by, my laden shelves. They are my refuge from a world that I have found difficult to negotiate; if it had not been for the necessity of earning my living in a more practical way, I could easily, and perhaps happily, have turned into a complete bookworm, or one of those creatures like the silverfish and the small, fragile, scaly moths that spend their entire lives among obscure and seldom disturbed volumes. I would have not read to live, but lived to read.
The shelves are an elaborate hieroglyph of my life that only I can read, and that will be destroyed after my death. Never having been a scholar of anything in particular, my life has been a succession of obsessions; as some murderers return to their crimes and become serial killers, I am a man of serial monomanias, each lasting a few months at most, and my books reflect this. A friend of mine, looking over them, said that anyone trying to discern from my books who I was or what I did would fail; for what has the history of Haiti to do with poisoning by arsenic, or the history of thought in nineteenth-century Russia with that of premature burial, plague, cholera, and the anti-vaccination agitation? Surprising numbers of books on all these matters are to be found on my shelves; and if I needed any reassurance of my own individuality, as the increasing number of people having themselves tattooed or pierced seemingly do, these shelves would supply it.
Read the whole piece here (purchase required)

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