When I was a high school senior, my AP English class spent some time working on “The Portable Phonograph,” a short story by Walter Clark. The story was set during the aftermath of a devastating war, which left the world in shambles.
In the story, four men were talking about the things they were able to save and the things they wish they had access to now that everything had been destroyed. One man had managed to save a stack of books and had just read to the other men. The volumes he protected were the Bible, Moby Dick, the works of Shakespeare, and The Divine Comedy. The man felt that these books represented the good things from the old world and hoped to give them to the new world.
“I have saved what I love; the soul of what was good in us here; perhaps the new ones will make a strong enough beginning not to fall behind when they become clever,” he said.
One man was a writer and wanted paper, but there was not even a parchment left for him to write on. With this in mind, it was obvious that there would be no new books until things improved. The four books, which were saved from the catastrophe, became a treasure in a world seeking more.
This story has always stuck with me, because it shows the true importance of literature. In a world where we have endless volumes at our fingertips, it’s so hard to comprehend the idea that we could one day be forced to start from scratch.
Why am I writing this?
I was recently asked to name which books I consider to be the most influential. Instantly, this short story boomed in my mind. What books would I save, if presented with a similar situation? What books would my peers save? Would we even bother saving those books in comparison to the endless electronics we prioritize above them?
In a generation of electronic media, it’s obvious that our cell phones and tablets are at the top of our “If the house catches fire, what would I save?” list. Probably just below family members and pets- I hope that’s the order, at least. But would our favorite books be on that list? Would we even consider the fact that our electronics will be useless in a nearly-desolate society?
My class was asked to survey some different community members about the amount of reading they indulge in. There were several questions about the number of books they own, the type of books they prefer, and the platforms they choose to receive their literature.
The book industry has been booming since the creation of the Printing Press. These days, Kindle and eReaders are commonly used. Since there is a convenience in both price and availability, that is understandable. If you can buy a book from the comfort of your bed for half the price, you’re probably going to. Many readers, however, don’t buy into the eBook movement. The survey was a way to connect the dots between the types of books preferred and the hunger for reading.
Knowing the community, and the people I interviewed, I was not prepared for an answer to these questions. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the reactions. Many people still feel that reading is important and still find time to sneak in a few pages when they can. Everyone was in agreement that reading was a crucial skill in furthering education, and almost everyone felt that it was a great recreational pastime.
With literacy as a top priority- at least on paper- I have high hopes that our community can tech these values to the next generation. Maybe we can spread our respect and need for literature into the coming days.
To reiterate Clark, “…perhaps the new ones will make a strong enough beginning not to fall behind when they become clever.”
While I’m not entirely confident that The Great Gatsby will take precedence over an iPhone 6s if it comes down to it, I have a newly-found respect for my community. The sanctity of the written word is not something that’s being overlooked.