The Value of Books

In terms of books, we live in uncertain times. After decades of claims that the printed book is dead, some accept this as a fact (when, of course, the printed boo is alive and well). After a generation of additional claims that we, because of the Web, are the most informed people in history, some, myself included, remain dubious; many, such as Nicholas Carr, are concerned that our browsing on the Web has even affected in a negative way our cognitive abilities.

There is a regular stream of books about the value of books, printed and digital. A recent example is Will Schwalbe, Books for Living (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017). Schwalbe’s tome, like others of this genre, is a highly personalized account of books that have meant something to him. Reading about his examples will make you think about books that you value, either by repeated rereading or just as continuing inspiration. It prompted me to think about books that remain an influence in my life, such as Richard Hofstader’s Antiintellualism in American Life, and authors, such as Henry Petroski, Witold Rybczynski, Rebecca Solnit, and Neil Postman, who I find myself revisiting on a regular basis.

Schwalbe makes assertions about why books are important, such as follows:

“I believe that everything you need to know you can find in a book” (p. 11).

“I also believe that there is no book so bad that you can’t find anything in it of interest” (p. 11).

Schwalbe declares himself to be a “Reader” and calls his book a “manifesto” for readers – “Because Think we need to read and to be readers now more than ever” (p. 13).

I concur with his assessment. In a sense, my blog is a similar manifesto, the reason why I devote so much attention to books being published, not just in my fields but ones that I think have implications for how I understand the role of archives and higher education in our society. If I offer nothing more to my students than that reading books is something that is important, I am confident that I have taught them something.

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