Have you ever had a moment where you’ve thought, “I’ve found my people?” That was me, Friday night, at the Booker T. Cleveland Society for the Learned, which might be one of the world’s coolest book clubs. Meeting monthly in bars, the society’s rules are simple and basically boil down to, you must bring a book and swap that book before the night is out.
The group is pretty self-selecting. Mainly young professionals. Dorky enough to want to go to a book club. Outgoing enough to talk to strangers in bars. Snobby enough that they will judge your book, and you, by its cover, thank you very much. So, clearly, I fit right in.
With everyone carrying around much-loved books, it was like we were all wearing our hearts on our sleeves. You can tell a lot about someone by the book that he uses to introduce himself. Personally, I brought Sarah Vowell’s “The Wordy Shipmates,” which might have been a little too NPR listener of me, but I just read it and really enjoyed it. I met people carrying battered, mass market sci-fi novels that had long since been loved to the point of becoming Real. People with giant history tomes, too intimidating to swap for, lest I be expected to finish them and report back in a month’s time. People carrying books that they must have fallen in love with in high school English and cherished ever since. (I’m looking at you Vonnegut.)
Initially, I thought that maybe these were everyone’s B-grade favorite books. The ones that they liked enough to recommend, but didn’t love so much that swapping them away seemed unbearable. But, then I met a guy who confessed, after his book turned out to have pornographic marginalia, that he had loved this book so much that he picked up a copy at Half-Price Books before coming to the swap. (Note to readers: flip through second hand books before purchasing.)
Towards the end of the night, I began to worry that the rise of ebooks might soon put a stop to The Booker T. Society and other such literary swap meets. As we read more and more books digitally, our book collections will shrink… or at least stop growing. I’m worried that, whenever’s the next time I move, I might not take my books with me. That they might end up in up in boxes that say “donate” rather than “keep.” That soon I’ll have less of my B-grade books – the ones I love, but not to the point of broken spines.
But, I believe, and hope, that that day’s a long way away. We might be slowing down the production of physical books, but I can’t believe that we’re at a point where the number of books in the physical world is shrinking. I’m sure I’ll see it in my lifetime, though. Maybe then the Booker T. Society will find a way to bump iPads together and exchange files. Sadly, doesn’t have quite the same romance to it…
Questions of the day: What book would you use to introduce yourself to a stranger? Do you have A-grade and B-grade favorite books? How big’s your book collection? And, are you, like me, worried that it might not survive your next move?
Maggie (not Margaret) by Maggie O’Toole
Formerly MaggieCakes, Maggie (not Margaret) covers technology’s impact on culture, specifically on how we interact with and connect with each other. Have a question or an idea you’d like me to write about? Leave a comment, or send me an e-mail: moc.teragramtoneiggam@eiggam