Caxton’s gadget

Penguin passport cover
Penguin passport cover

Is that a book in your pocket, or are you nostalgic this evening?

No, it’s not an edition of On the Road that you can read. It’s a passport cover bearing the Penguin Classics branding. Which makes me wonder: are sales of Penguin-branded stationery, bags, passport covers and mugs now outstripping Penguin’s book sales? Is the Penguin brand fetish stronger than our desire to read? Would people rather have A Room of One’s Own — the coffee mug — than a copy of Virginia Woolf’s book? Do they prefer 1984 — the tea towel — to the novel?

Stationery and accessories now feature redundant analogue technology as an ironic or nostalgic statement. You can buy laptop sleeves, digital accessory cases and drink bottles emblazoned with ghostly images of cassette tapes, typewriters, broadsheet newspapers, cathode ray tube TV sets, film cameras, quill pens, vinyl records — and books. Books are joining the ranks of the obsolete, the twee, the embarrassing and the clunky on the great rubbish tip of the collective psyche. [Less than 24 hours after I posted this, The Sydney Morning Herald published an article about recycling books as furniture, accessories and art — actually reading them would be eccentric.]

Books, it seems, are like moustaches: relics of the past that can only be enjoyed as a joke or a fundraiser. OMG, did people actually, like, read books?

I’ve seen a lot of objects and institutions go in my time: vinyl records; audio cassettes; typewriters; small, heavy, TVs; video cassette recorders; music shops; handwritten letters; rotary dial telephones; floppy discs; Polaroid cameras; the milk man; paper boys. I don’t miss many of them. I was happy to wave most of them goodbye, but I won’t let go of the book without a fight.

Caxton's gadget, the bookTHE must-have hand-held device: Caxton’s gadget, the printed book. Personalise yours with inscriptions. Post comments in the margins. It’s portable and can withstand liquids and falls. Easier on the eye than a shiny, backlit screen! No need to install updates. No batteries or charging required. No region coding on the content! No back-ups required. Buy it and own it for a lifetime.

So if you see me toting a laptop sleeve made to look like a book or a canvas bag bearing the name of a novel, it’s not an ironic statement, it’s a homage to the greatest gadget of all, the book. You are more likely, however, to see me reading a book, which is a greater tribute. Books have given me so much, it’s only reasonable that I should read them, buy them and talk about them. I am wedded not only to the word, but to the elegant simplicity of Caxton’s content delivery system.

Long live the book.

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