I entered our local mall one night for a temporary distraction from the cold weather and found the annual used book sale run by a charitable organization whose name I can never remember. Their tables, which once filled the mall with excitement, were few and quiet.
The first section was marked by a handmade sign as “Coffee Table Books.” They were large, magnificent books of photographs interspersed with bits of explanation, still looking brand new. Birds of North America. History of the Civil War. The Brandywine Valley. Once they were very expensive, but cannot sell for even $5. Almost any Google search would bring up better photos. Do people still have coffee tables? Why would they put books on them?
Each cluster of book tables had two elderly volunteers wearing incongruous shop aprons to handle the sales, but mostly they were waiting in boredom or fussily straightening the books. Many seemed to be retired couples too familiar with each other to converse. A few potential customers paged through a book or two, but eventually closed them and moved on, their curiosity satisfied. People used to collect these? Really? they seemed to be thinking. The huge disconnect in ages between the young browsers and the volunteers was striking.
Books are no longer symbols of knowledge and culture. Bookshelves in homes display plants . . . and pottery . . . and family photos. Anything but books.