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Books – Our Old Friends

Watership Down

My study/studio has a high row of built-in bookshelves all the way around the periphery. While the majority of my book collection rests in boxes in the garage, a few select ones, either those that I have recently read, or special books I have brought out because I want to read them again, sit on the shelves that surround me every day when I work.

When I sit at my desk while I talk on the phone, I like to throw up my feet, and lean back in my chair. As I look up, right above me, next to a recessed light, is my old copy of Watership Down. It has been resting there for years, to be picked up and read again. I don’t remember the last time I read it, but I am sure it’s been at least 25 years. That book, like many others, is an iconic old friend.

Today, when I browsed through the queued posts in my WordPress reader, I came to this blog entry by Emily J., where she shows her favorite books on a shelf high up in her bedroom. Immediately I noticed the first book there: Watership Down. Immediately I could relate, and then I read the whole post, which I might have missed otherwise.

Books, especially those we have read before, are our old friends. We have spent many hours with them, touching them, holding them, saving them, and looking at them. The color of the cover alone gave Watership Down away. Just like artwork on the covers of old vinyl record albums, the artwork on book covers, since we see it all the time, creates a mental association with the book itself, and we like the book for two reasons: Its content and its cover.

Sadly, I haven’t bought a hardcopy novel in at least four years. All my books are now stored in an account, and I can access them all from my Kindle, and even my smartphone, any time I want. I now prefer reading on my devices to holding a hardcopy book for a lot of reasons.

But I have no associations with the covers of the books. I don’t even know what they might look like in most cases. My Kindle books don’t sit around in my house and surprise me with their colors. I don’t recognize the books of others that they read in their Kindles, like I recognized Emily’s in her post. Our new books are detached from us. We still have relationships with them, but relationships of a different kind.

Where will all the knowledge of mankind go, when one day there is no more electricity, nobody charges Kindles anymore, and there are no hardcopy books? The danger is that we can all descend into the stone age within just a few weeks. But it won’t even have to be a civilization-killing catastrophe that ends it all. What happens when one day Amazon no longer exists?

That may seem like a shocking thought. I bet it hasn’t occurred to Jeff Bezos that one day Amazon will not exist. Or Google. Or Apple. How many companies do you know that are over 100 years old? Probably very few. One day, sooner or later, Amazon will encounter the same fate that mighty Kodak had to face. And it may not take 100 years. Where will all my books be then, when I can’t connect to Amazon and look them up?

Books were our old friends, but even old friends are not with us forever.

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