Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The National Book Festival

I read Critical Mass this afternoon, which led me to this interivew with James Billington, Librarian of Congress.

I was unaware of the impending National Book Festival. But here is Mr. Billington telling us why books, those paper objects some of us are so insanely attached to, remain important:

"This country was put together by people who read books; we’re the only culture in the world whose institutions were formed entirely in the age of print. The Internet is wonderful, but you don’t get wisdom, judgment and selectivity on the Internet. A book is a little world of coherence, a conversation from one person to another. Books are sort of the sinews of civilization. We had 100,000 people on the Mall last year."

By now my passionate love of books should be well established. Nearly equally established are my old-fashioned (unhip) tastes in literature, and, by extension, to life in general. A recent New York Magazine article about the New York Review of Books decried the death of a certain kind of intellectual, the sort who had advanced degrees and actually worried about literature. While I cannot claim that level of education (an MA from a middling state school) or that level of intellectual reach, I certainly aspire to it, and would vastly prefer to resemble Barbara Epstein than, say, Dita Von Teese. Given the proliferation of intelligent internet, it's safe to assume there are others who feel as I do. Evidently Mr. Billington is oblivious to us. I agree that all manner of idiocy may be found on the internet. So, too, may it be found in the "little world of coherence" that is books. Consider Nicole Ritche's The truth about diamonds.

This is not a book I would call "the sinew of civilization" Not even sort of.

I could list lots of "little worlds of coherence" that aren't. But there is no point in being nasty; suffice to say that books are like the internet: each reflects society from high to low. I would place Mr. Billington on the "high" end, but given the above quote, well, all I can say is he must feel like he fits right in with the current Administration, avid readers all, whose height resides strictly in their shoe heels.

Books, Literature


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