Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Emotion of Books

A few of the book titles Isaac owned in similar editions
I confess.  I am still one of those who likes to hold a book in my hands when I read--preferably a beautifully bound hard cover book, although I need to put a pillow in my lap to hold the book because my arms get tired.  I read when I walk on my treadmill, although paperback books are preferable in that case, because they are lighter.  I have a smart phone, but when I encounter a word whose meaning is unclear, I still prefer reaching for the dictionary rather than looking up the word on my phone.  Sometimes I will find something interesting as I flip pages or search down the columns of the dictionary pages for the word I am seeking.  Being in a library where real books line the walls stirs my emotions in a way that computers and smart phones cannot do.

There is something about walking into a library or a personal home with shelves of books that, for me, inspires awe.  When we visited Philadelphia, one of the sites we chose was the tour of a historic home owned by a doctor.  In his personal office were book cases filled with leather bound books, the only furniture being the doctor's desk with its chair facing a fireplace.  I don't remember any of the other rooms in that house, but the library was awesome to me.    

An edition Isaac's library would have contained
Recently we went to the annual book sale held by the Wichita Art Museum.  Donated books are sold at prices ranging from a dollar to five dollars.  The quality of the donated books lining rows of tables are impressive, both in condition and content.  Volunteers have sorted books into categories, and prices are shown by the colors of the bright stickers on each book's cover.  Art books and a few other books deemed more valuable are separately priced, and I could hardly resist the Thomas Eakins art book priced at fifty dollars.

However, the most exciting thing about the annual sale is the crowd!  The parking lot required a long walk to reach the museum, and the people we meet carrying bags and boxes and arm loads of books made me wonder whether all the best books would be gone by the time we reached the museum.  That was not the case.  Although we didn't arrive until after lunch on the second day of the sale, the tables remained full.

A set of books my grandparents owned
Certainly, one of the things that attracted me to Isaac Werner was our common love for books.  As a young druggist in Rossville, Illinois, he spent his money on books, writing in his journal that he believed buying books was a better investment than loaning his money to others for the interest it would earn.  He imagined building a house with a separate structure for his books, to protect his library from fire should his house burn.  When he homesteaded on the prairie in Kansas, he crated his library and brought it with him.

The discouraging

statistics about the decline in reading among Americans suggests that my feelings about books are not shared by everyone.  In 2018, Pew Research reported that 74% had read at least one book during the prior 12 months, if print, audio, and digital were all included.  Print books remained the most popular reading source, 67% having read one print book.  Between 2016 and 2018, the number of Americans 'reading' audiobooks rose from 14% to 18%.  The typical American reads 4 books a year.  Those with more education tend to read more books than those with less education.

Another research source, Statista, found slightly different numbers, although they agreed that women read more than men, and those with college educations read more that those with less education.  They compared readership by age groups, asking who had read at least one book in the past year.  Of those aged 18 to 29, 80% said they had read at least one book; those  30 to 49 reported 73%; those 50 to 64 reported 70%; and those 65 and above dropped to 67%.  Unfortunately, one book a year is a very low target to suggest significant American readers!

Wichita Museum Book Sale 2019
One-book-a-year people were not the readers that came to the Wichita Art Museum to enjoy the Annual Book Sale. I was so thrilled by the crowd that I had to take a picture.  


Kim said...

I love getting the Wowbray email from the Hutchinson Public Library each Wednesday. It features the new books coming to the library, and I invariably add to my "hold" list at the library. As I've said before, my visits with our granddaughters almost always include a bag of a dozen books from the library, and we often read their favorites in the pile multiple times. I can't imagine reading only one book a year! I'll add another book sale to your list: Stafford United Methodist Church does a book sale in the church basement every Oktoberfest, the first Saturday in October. I'm sure it doesn't have the volume of the Wichita sale, but proceeds go to the Stafford Food Bank.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Hutchinson must have a population of readers. We love to go to Blue Bird Book Store whenever we are in Hutchinson and always buy a book to support an independent bookstore! We also enjoy coffee and pastries, which also supports the store but like the books makes it easy to be supportive. The St. John Library has a basement room of books for sale, and I have found wonderful books at both the St. John and the Pratt libraries when they hold their sales. We added bookcases when we remodeled, but I am already back to stacks of books on the floor! I write my personal review of every book I read, and I do return to the books and the reviews occasionally. I am a slow reader and can't imagine how many friends read so many books as quickly as they do. I think nonfiction reads more slowly than fiction, and I read lots of history. Thanks for the info.