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The Timelessness of Books

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The Timelessness of Books


Shakespeare famously wrote about the long-lasting power of the written word in his Sonnet 18, the one that begins “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” In this love poem, the poet laments that his beloved, though young and beautiful now, will one day die, as we all must. The poem ends with this surprising couplet:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

In other words, although the beloved is certain to die, the poet’s words about the beloved will live on through the centuries—as long as people are around to read them.

It’s an astonishing bit of hubris on the part of the poet that’s all the more affecting because it has turned out to be true. People are still reading and thinking about the poet’s beloved, all these centuries later.

The Lastingness of Physical Books

Of course, as we discussed in the post How Many Books Do You Need?, the tendency of books to stick around for years can result in cluttered spaces. Jane wrote me with some interesting thoughts on how many books she keeps at home:

“The number depends on how many are not available at the local library or still in print. I have been donating books that I can find quickly. This frees up space for essential books and reduces the number I have to pack when moving. My first culling resulted in seven carloads to the donation box at the library. They had to be left in an empty room.”

Seven carloads! That’s a lot of books. But she didn’t throw them away; she donated them for others to enjoy. The written word tends to endure.

Furthermore, she made sure to keep the books she knew she might have trouble finding elsewhere, because they were either rare enough to be out of stock at the library (due to popularity or unpopularity) or out of print. Often, the hardest-to-find books are the most cherished. Whether commonplace or rare, printed and bound words are important to people. They last.

The Enduring Popularity of Books

The fact that books are important to people may seem obvious; but it’s often, sadly, not.

When I was younger, I was embarrassed by my love of books. I had two alternate personas, depending on the occasion. Sometimes I tried to keep my bookishness a secret, pretending to be more interested in TV, movies, and fashion. Other times, resigning myself to being uncool, I kept my nose in a book and avoided the social game.

It took me years to realize that true coolness comes from owning who you are and what you love. It also took me years to realize that books are just as cool as any other passion people have.

We Can’t Make Books Cool Again

We can’t make books cool again . . . because they already are. They’ve been cool for centuries. They started being cool when they were invented, and they never stopped being cool. Books are like music and horses and sports and beer. Cool for centuries, right?

While we can’t make books cool again, we can take an active part in their coolness, as people have been doing for years and years. If you’re a book lover, don’t be afraid to display your passion proudly. Here are some ideas for sharing your love of books—with style.

  • Seek out independently owned bookstores: Cool people work and hang out there. Buy a book or something to eat or drink, sit for a while and read or work, and, if you feel up to it, strike up a conversation with someone.
  • Read in public: Read while riding on public transit, waiting for appointments to begin, and sitting on park benches. Do it proudly.
  • Carry a book everywhere you go: If you’re meeting someone who’s running late, you’ll have something pleasureful to do.
  • When talking with people, ask them what they are reading: More often than not, they will have an interesting answer to that question.
  • When talking with people, mention tidbits you learned from books: It’s a great way to share ideas and spark an interesting conversation.
  • Join or start a Silent Book Club: Being part of a community of book lovers can help you foster close friendships, share ideas, and get recommendations on what to read next.

Instead of hiding behind our books, let’s read them and talk about them joyfully and unabashedly. The written word has always been cool. Let’s share the love.

The Eternal Trendiness of Books

As Shakespeare knew, well-written words aren’t likely to disappear, as long as the human race endures.

How do you participate in the eternal trendiness of books? Do you openly display your love of books in public or during social events? Have you ever felt uncool while reading or talking about books? How did you overcome that feeling?

Share your answers on Facebook or through my website. I’ll feature some of your responses in a future post.

Liza Achilles is a writer and Silent Book Club organizer in Rockville, Maryland. She blogs about seeking wisdom through books and elsewhere at