The End of Books

Justin E.H.Smith on his evolving relationship with his library.

(By 2011) commercial bookstores had largely converted for the sale of book-themed tchotchkes, and in a certain sense even the books themselves had become “book-themed”: objects that had been produced for the sake of profitable marketing to “book lovers”, rather than as the inevitable consequence of the need of authors to transmit ideas. The libraries I occasionally saw at big state universities began around that time to feature massive “book sculptures” in their foyers — discarded and unloved volumes recycled now as public art, often hollowed out, cut in half, disfigured. These were intended as “celebrations” of the wonders of reading, even though it was obvious to anyone who had ever read a book that what was really happening was a variety of desacralization bordering on vandalism.

Tchotchke = a small bric-à-brac or miscellaneous item. Yiddish in origin, the word has long been used by Jewish-Americans and in the regional speech of New York City and elsewhere.