Let’s Not Go Throwing the ‘A’ Word Around: If Books Are Anachronistic, then what the Hell am I? :-(


Books really do furnish a room. The less necessary they become as useful objects, the more important they become as decorative objects. We no longer need that dog-eared paperback from college to look up a quote from Hegel, and yet books are physical manifestations of our histories, our interests, and our passions. They are also beautiful creations of design and typography that evoke their era. There are plenty of anachronistic things that are essential for a comfortable home: we certainly don’t need candlelight or blazing fires or antique mirrors but we love them for how they make us feel.

The Perfectly Imperfect Home by Deborah Needleman (178)

Whoa, Deborah Needleman – Hold your horses. I’ve always thought of anachronisms as sunglasses in period films, like Django. I guess coming from a literary sort of education and lifestyle, it makes sense that an anachronism, for me, is something that hasn’t yet been invented at the time a story takes place and therefore, shouldn’t be included in the story without some stylistic intentionality on the writer’s part. However, let’s look up what an anachronism actually is before we get our panties in a twist.

Webster tells us that an anachronism is 1: the error of placing a person or thing in the wrong period OR 2: one that is chronologically out of place.

So… books in a present-day house certainly aren’t chronologically misplaced, but let’s consider the possibility that they are just in the “wrong period.” Allow me to call my first witness to the stand: my own home.

I am in my late twenties, and thus not at all an old folk, incapable of staying up with the times. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to assume that I’m at least a little current in my technologies and whatnot, because I have a current day job and a blog.

*Note: I did not move anything around to stage these pictures… this represents certain pockets of my home as they actually are.

Exhibit 1: My office and working book shelves. Note the sheer volume of volumes in my home. Why would I need SOOOOO many anachronisms to decorate one room?

Exhibit 1: My office. Note the sheer volume of volumes here. Why would I want SOOOOO many anachronisms to decorate one room? And, yes, I have two copies of the HP series because I have one for reading and one to keep fancy.  Don’t judge.

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Exhibit 2: My coffee table. I think this one puts things into perspective a bit. I have here books, video games (and Rockband guitar), and VHS tapes. Just a few inches off-screen/off-photo, there are more DVDs than any one person should own. Now, if I was to pick the anachronism in that photo, I would NOT guess, “The books!” I would have to go with the VHS tapes; although I still watch them from time-to-time, they are certainly the most outdated thing in that photo. Next to them, the books look damn-well progressive.

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Exhibit 3: My baker’s rack. Do you see those cook books? They are there because I prefer them to e-recipes (as if that’s a thing). Occasionally, I will get a recipe from the interwebs. However, I will always make myself a hard copy of the thing because paper recipes are convenient. I can stick them to the fridge with a magnet, and never have to touch them with doughy hands, whereas there’s the problem of scrolling and thus gross-ifying a keyboard  or touchscreen when working with e-recipes.

Books in My Room

Exhibit 4: Books in my bedroom. So this might be where other people have a nice, compact Kindle. This stack of books includes everything I’ve started reading and intend to finish relatively soon. It does not include the (usually three) books I read a little of every day.

Books in the Entryway

Exhibit 5: The entryway table. Those, there, are books that I’ve borrowed from other people and need to either read soon or return soon. Clearly, others haven’t moved onto the no-book era that Needleman implies we are currently in, because they’re still loaning me those pesky anachronisms.

And now I’d like to call my second and final witness to the stand: The public school system.

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Exhibit 6: The dining room table. On that table, there are seven books (gold star to anyone who can find all seven!). Of those seven, five are books from or for my classroom. The reason there are school books in my dining room is the dreaded lesson planning. Although I’m teaching classes I’ve previously taught, I needed to prepare a bit for them this year because we ordered new books for the upcoming school year. That’s right; we ordered physical books rather than a Kindle for every kid. These books have been ordered for a school that houses a SmartBoard in every classroom (this is a fancy, touchscreen that replaces the chalk/dry erase board).

So… my point is NOT that we are in the era of physical books. My point is that the photo up above and the state of my classroom are evidence that we are in an era in which physical books and technology are both relevant. My home and my classroom play host to a partnership of p-pages and e-pages. Neither the ebook nor the physical book is anachronistic, and I doubt either of them will become anachronistic for at least a generation or two. There are too many of us who haven’t jumped on-board the ebook bandwagon, and many who stubbornly cling to our non-dog-eared pages (Deborah Needleman had better steer clear of my immaculately-cared for antiques!)… We are the voracious readers of the era. We are the ones authors have in mind as they craft their characters and draft their diction. We may prefer Amazon because of their prices, but we also revel in the anticipation of the package in the mail rather than the anti-climax of a click here or there, followed by a quick “loading” pop-up message.

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