The Monks of the Next Dark Age

John Derbyshire laments the death of the book:

Some years ago New Yorker magazine ran a cover picture of a guy sitting in an armchair working a laptop, with behind him a whole wall full of books. Every one of the books had, on its spine, a little face drawn. The faces were sad, angry, or plaintive.

That came to mind this month when I heard that Book Revue, my village’s independent bookstore, was closing. In their last week, the week of September 6th, they marked down all of their huge inventory. I went in to pick up some bargains, but for some reason felt no urge to buy and left empty-handed.

The following Tuesday, when I passed by, they had already cleared out the whole place. The empty shelves were a melancholy sight.

When we settled here thirty years ago the village had Book Revue and two second-hand bookstores, with a couple of the big chain retailers in nearby shopping centers. Now the nearest place to buy a book, or just browse, is in the mega-mall fifteen miles away. At any rate, there was a Barnes & Noble there when I last went, a couple of years ago …

“Oh, people just buy their books online—lots of books!” That’s what you hear if you raise the topic. I call it whistling through the graveyard, and think of that New Yorker cover. Books are dying a slow death, going the way that cuneiform on clay tablets went when papyrus came up.

It’s geezerish to grumble about it, and anyway futile. History stumbles on, and the old gives way to the new. For someone of my generation, though, for whom books have been a solace and a delight from childhood onward, it is sad, sad.

I feel exactly the opposite way. When I recall my childhood library filled with ephemeral paperbacks, and contrast that with the glorious image of my office library filled with beautiful leatherbound books by Franklin Library, Easton, and, of course, Castalia Library, I feel encouraged and restored.

Anyhow, you’ll definitely want to subscribe just so you can get the Landmark Thucydides at what will almost certainly be a break-even price from us. It’s going to be an incredible edition, unquestionably the best ever published of the 2,000-year-old book, but due to the unusually large width required for the maps and footnotes, it is going to be even more expensive to produce than the Plutarchs were. But nevertheless, it will be a subscription book because we want our subscribers to know that we appreciate them and want them to have the best books we produce.

In any event, the book will not die any century soon. It is considerably more likely that the lights will go out and the ebook will disappear, quite possibly before the end of the 21st century. We are the monks of the next literary Dark Age.

So don’t be sad, sub-scribe.