For decades, urban book aficionados have hoped that maybe, just maybe, that mysterious stranger reading the literary gem on the subway seat across from them could be a kindred spirit. If only there could be a conversation starter, "the two of you might stroll off like French lovers thrown together by capricious fate, scampering to take cover from the christening rain," as Vanity Fair culture critic James Wolcott mused.
With the recent news that e-book sales, by one barometer, have finally surpassed the sales of hardcover books, that romantic notion is dying a quicker death than anticipated. And book connoisseurs aren't happy: not only does this mean that they won’t be able to charm you with a witty aside about that Norman Mailer title you were reading, but they also can’t judge you for perusing James Patterson page-turners. What’s a culture snob to do in e-book era?
Apparently, they publish laments. The latest such article, following a spate of nostalgic pieces in The New York Times and Vanity Fair, is a feature in Slate by Mark Oppenheimer, who recalls a time where, "books made the first move" for you.
If only our times could be as simple as this:
When I was 22 there was the dazzling brunette who, weeks into the relationship, when I asked why she had agreed to a date, said, "I liked your books." ...At a small party I threw, to which I had invited the few people I knew in town, she—dragged there by a friend—had been intrigued by these books sitting on that bookshelf. (Ikea, of course.)
When I was 26 there was the English teacher at the summer school where I was teaching who noticed my copy of Best American Essays 1996. Her face broke wide open, into a big, eager smile, and she said, "The page from Anna Karenina!"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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