This video made the social media rounds a couple of weeks ago. I thought it would be a fitting first post as we begin to think about where books have come from and where they are going.
While I love the use of stop motion and certainly get a kind of kid-in-a-candy-shop feeling from watching this, I can’t help but notice the subtle implication that these books come to life in spite of, or perhaps because of, the absence of readers. The intent may be to suggest that books are full of action and activity just waiting for a reader to discover them, but the implicit message, to my mind, is that bookstores are becoming a lonely place and that printed books (“real” books, as the title of the book in the closing shot says) need to be defended against the wave of digital publishing.
I found Janaka Stuckey’s recent post on the future of bookstores at the Poetry Foundation blog insightful on this point. He suggests increased specialization, an emphasis on community programming, and a closer interaction between booksellers and readers (through personal recommendations and in-store events) are the only way book stores can compete with Amazon. It’s not even more beneficial to publishers (like his Black Ocean imprint) to sell through mom and pop shops–Amazon kicks back a larger percentage of each sale.
The “Joy of Books” video subtly touches on this situation: at one point, we see a little brown moleskine turning the pages of a large hard-bound poetry book, a somewhat cute synecdoche for the reading audience Stuckey suggests is keeping bookstores alive: writers, and specifically poets.
Is the “joy” of books something inherent in their format–a material jouissance?
Is it perhaps in their content, which has historically been distributed in a wide variety of forms from the tablet and scroll to the codex and iPad?
Is it in the reader, without whose intervention the words stay locked in their covers, whatever form those covers take?
We’ll hope to consider some of these questions in the coming months.