Doom and gloom doubled last week when the Economist announced not just the death of books, but proved it by the death of bookcases. In particular Billy, a classic IKEA item of furniture that has been available for thirty years, has five adjustable shelves, is cheap enough for students to give up the brick and plank solution to book storage (though I don’t know why they would) and which even ‘may be completed with BILLY height extension unit in the same width for added storage vertically’. Billy, the Economist said, was suffering a redesign that suggested a change of use: the shelves were being deepened from 11″ to 15″ in order to hold ornaments, framed photographs, trophies, plants, decorative boxes. Glass doors have also been added: through which to look at objets, rather than to give instant book access. IKEA, it seemed, was declaring the end of books as we know them, a sure marker that the ebook revolution was complete. (Or possibly that people have simply given up reading books: an article in the Author by Andrew Franklin of Profile Books says that any novel not instantly ‘compelling’ – an easy read? – is pretty much bought and read only ‘by the author’s extended family’.)
A correction came three days later from the Reluctant Habits blog, the writer of which had taken the trouble to call IKEA and ask a question, unlike the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, the Week, Time,the Daily Mail and the Consumerist. In fact, it’s an additional Billy: the open-fronted, book-sized original will still be available, the IKEA public relations manager explained, and then rather spoiled the effect of literary support (in three senses) by adding:
I hate to dispel those who think the bookcase is dead. We do not see it that way. We really see books as decorative. Books will still continue to be something used to adorn. They’re rich and they’re textured.
Some hope then, but not exactly the kind to keep the likes of me in handmade champagne truffles.
A solution comes to mind. Children’s books (apparently anyone can write them, according to Martin Amis), which must have an ongoing market because the punters keep being born and have to learn to read (we can only hope). ‘The Adventures of Billy the Bookcase’: he gets wider and narrower, glassed (unsuitable for small children) or full-frontally open (ditto). It might be a health education book: ‘Billy the Bulimic Bookcase’. Or perhaps a mystery: ‘Billy the Shape-Shifting Bookcase’. Satirical, perhaps, Swiftian, Dodgsonian: ‘The Tale of a Bookcase’; ‘Billy the Bookcase through the Glass Doors’. Dozens of Billy the Bookcase books, like Mr Men, in millions of IKEA Billy Bookcases. I feel sponsorship coming on.