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Books and Things

I’m sure many saw this classic New Yorker cover recently. A lot of people mentioned it to me. Look, they were saying, a funny cartoon about the death of the book.

But what I like most about it is the way it highlights one of the ways through which books will likely survive. The more we see books as things, as part of a broader spectrum of material objects that are meaningful to us in their tactility, the more we will value the book’s endurance. While the illustrator was linking the book to the junk items of commodified culture (Kafka hats), I’m thinking more of objects that share the book’s elements (wood, paper, thread) and that have been part of handicraft culture for centuries. I just don’t see the plastic ebook as completely replacing that longstanding value.

So if books are only some of the items on offer in a store, this isn’t necessarily a sign of the book’s end (or even the “bookstore’s”). It could also be a sign of the book’s revitalization as a meaningful material object, one with texture, history, and multiplicity built into it.