I’m writing an article on “little libraries” for a journal — but, as usual, I’ve got way too much material, and the resulting article has turned out way too long. I’m prepared to have to do some painful pruning. I’ve already decided that my intro had to go, so I’m posting it here:
Illustrator and comic book artist Adrian Tomine is perhaps best known among the general reading public for his New Yorker covers, which usually depict people’s public engagement with books. In one, an independent book shop owner catches his neighbor accepting a shipment from Amazon; in another, a teenage girl atop a double-decker tour bus ignores what has so captivated her photo-snapping parents and chooses instead to focus on her novel; in still another, a motley crew in an airport lounge reads, independently yet in unison, while they wait out a snowstorm; and in yet another, a pair of attractive young singles, sitting in passing subway trains, shares a glance through the window and discovers they’re reading the same book. In each of these scenes, the book lives at the center of a social world, either connecting or disconnecting people, informing how they interact with their material surroundings. And in each, there’s a hint of preemptive nostalgia for what’s about to be lost, and an unease about what’s to come. Will the snow stop and the airplanes take flight again before these would-be travelers exhaust their reading material? Are the boy and girl in the subway fated to meet again? How will the shop owner and his neighbor greet one another on the street after this awkward encounter – and will his bookshop beat the odds and survive the Amazon onslaught?
A more recent Tomine cover illustration raises a related set of issues. Depicting a bookstore display of canonical-author paraphernalia – bobble-head dolls, hats, posters, t-shirts – opposite a selection of e-readers, it calls into question the material futures of the book and reading. As the text itself becomes virtual, will these literary souvenirs become the only material trace of print culture? We’ve wondered, and worried, for decades now about the futures of our bookstores, our libraries, our books, and the future of reading itself….
And off I go…