Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Is there growing contempt for books?

A news story and a blog entry both raise this question, though in opposite ways that are interesting.

Emilia Askari reports in the Detroit Free Press that "even the most popular libraries have some books on the back shelves or in the basement that no one ever wants to read." Discomfort with discarding or destroying books leads many libraries and people to find alternative means of disposal. So besides selling them at rummage sales and giving them away, the Bloomsfield Public Library decided to exhibit art works made from these unwanted volumes. One of the artists found the experience of sculpting with books and branches very positive: "I love sculptural things, and I love books, and I love trees."

But blogger Lynn Wienck on Book Patrol takes such book art as one piece of evidence of growing contempt for books.

I like books for themselves finding sufficient beauty in printed words, illustrations, and bindings. Atmosphere, mystery, and excitement are found among the simple black-and-white lines of text. Why then are books utilized to generate art, furniture, lamps, and clocks? The art is superb, creative, and fresh, but books are cut, drilled, and painted for a final product having nothing to do with reading skills. It seems a travesty, a mockery, of the original intent of the volume.

One could let this pass as yet another example of how different people have opposite values. However, both the news story and the blog account start with the wide-spread view that, due to cultural changes fueled in part by evolving technology and capitalistic commodification, books have lost value in many people's eyes.

The suspicion that this assumption is quite wrong led me to create this blog. All the varied instances of iconic books and texts indexed by the labels at left show that their veneration remains quite high, especially as measured by the crass scales of consumer culture, whether in terms of record auction prices or total numbers of books sold, but also as reflected in religious, political, and personal practices world-wide. Of course, many people dislike many of the uses to which books are put. But such disagreements, and especially the vehemence with which they are often expressed, only underscore the iconic status of books in the first place.

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