The Age of the Book may be ending, but …

Books on shelves line my walls. They are like a lifeline for me.

Along one wall are the books I’ve completely read and kept. I look at the bindings and recall not only the contents of the book but also the places and times in life when I read them. They are markers of my life with learning.

On another wall are the books I have not yet completely read. The show me that there is still so much to be learned. They are potential markers for the remaining years of my life.

Historian John Lukacs had some interesting things to say about reading in his 2002 book, At the End of an Age.

“The inflation of ‘education’ had much to do with the decline of reading (and of its declining requirements in the curriculum of the schools). This was another sign of the end of the Modern Age, which was also the Age of the Book” (p. 26).

This is hard for reading lovers to accept, but it does no good to deny reality — reading teaches us that. Yes, the Modern Age is ending. In writing about today I do not call it modern; I call it contemporary. Saying goodbye to the Age of the Book makes a reader want to stand on a hill and shout “No!” to all who will hear, but sometimes our “no” cannot stand against a cultural “yes.”

Back to Lukacs:

“The invention of the printing of books coincided with the beginning of the Modern Age; it was both consequence and cause of many of its achievements. At first it was the availability of books, rather than of schools, that led to an increase of readers — until by the nineteenth century, men and women who could not read became a small minority among the populations of the Western world” (26).

Imagine that! People read because they wanted to learn and be entertained, and books provided the only means to quench that thirst. Books preceded widespread schooling. Now, we tend to think that schooling leads to reading. That’s wrong. For instance, I fell in love with books long before I grew to appreciate schooling.

There were the books Mom read to me — The Little Engine that Could, Bite Dump Bite (about a bulldozer), and Chicken Little come quickly to mind. Then came the Cat in the Hat books. Then Island of the Blue Dolphins. Then a long wait ended by a college freshman English teacher who let me read sports books, but only quality ones — When All the Laughter Died in Sorry comes easily to mind. Then Aristotle’s Ethics and Pirsig’s The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Then The Lord of the Rings. And on and on.

I recalled all of those books from memory, not from looking to my shelves or my journal. That’s the impact good books have on readers.

More from Lukacs:

“Around the same time the flood of reading matter, including newspapers, rose even higher than the ever-rising flood of books: with the rise of universal literacy (due to the extension of schooling) there was now a new reservoir of potential readers to be tapped. But the inflation of printed matter unavoidably reduced its quality; and there were other influences at hand. The reproduction of more and more pictures in newspapers, magazines, and books; the advent of moving pictures and, finally, of television led to a condition in which — again, not unlike the Middle Ages — the routine imagination of large masses of people became pictorial rather than verbal. Together with the extent of their readership, the influence of books was receding — together, too, with the decline of people’s attention span, or with their capacity to concentrate, indeed, to listen. With the increasing propagation of ‘information’ and of ‘communication’ the habits of reading further declined” (26).

If the Age of the Book is passing, and I think it is, then how do we promote learning in an Age of Images?

Books will not disappear anytime soon, but they will go the way of the scroll. Most people do not have the love for books that I have. That’s sad for me, but that’s also OK. I do hope they can have the love of learning, because learning helps us be the best versions of ourselves.

And I do hope they learn that, as with books, it is possible to learn bad, untruthful, and destructive things from any medium. Nazism was one of the great political plagues of humanity, but it was rooted in bad ideas spread through certain books. Or maybe I should say, Nazism is; it has not gone away. Lies die a hard death.

Seek learning that is rooted in love and respect for all of creation, especially for our fellow humans. Any expression of loving and kind humanity should be celebrated, even if it doesn’t fit in with our own cultural or religious backgrounds.

Maybe the emerging age will be an Age of Honoring Creation. And, for me, that will also mean it will be an Age of Honoring the Creator.

Copyright © 2021 Ferrell Foster

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