Slouching Toward Bedlam

The Reports of the Death of the Book Have Been Greatly Exaggerated, or Kleinhut Defeats Dewey

“He’s not going to get away with it this time!” Librarian Jon Kleinhut was so angry his ear hairs were standing straight out like wisps of steam. “I am a librarian, part of an honorable and dignified profession that stretches back to biblical times. I am not a ‘C.O.M.M.A.’!”

Phys ed teacher Rex Kane looked up from the end of the table where he was trying to restring a badminton racket. “What’s the deal, Schmeal?”

“Our micromanaging principal has decided we can save money by eliminating the book budget and buying an iPad for every student. Kids can read books on those. And he wants to change my title from librarian to ‘computer operations multimedia access specialist’! I’ll tell you what, he can just take . . . go to . . .”

“Where’s my meatball sandwich?” came the voice of shop teacher Gord Winkle from deep in the fridge. He dropped to his knees, everything from the waist up disappearing inside the appliance.

Recently hired computer applications teacher Josh Dewey looked up from his iPhone. “Look, Jon. You might as well face facts. Within a year or two, there aren’t going to be any actual, physical books. Kids will just be reading on their phones or tablets. You might was well become a C.O.M.M.A. before librarians are extinct. It’s inevitable.”

“Where is it? I wrote my name on the bun in pen!” came Gord’s voice, apparently from the crisper.

“You wrote on a meatball sandwich in pen?” Rex Kane seemed genuinely surprised.

Jon Kleinhut walked over to Josh Dewey. He sat down in the chair next to him, swiveled to face him head on, and fixed him with a stare of such intensity that Josh swallowed nervously. “Okay, computer kid,” said Kleinhut, “let’s talk cold hard facts. A 2012 survey by Bowker Market Research revealed that 59 percent of Americans have absolutely no interest in buying an e-book. The same survey revealed that 89 percent of book readers read at least one printed book in the last year, but only 30 percent of those readers read an e-book. In other words, for people who actually read, printed books are widely preferred over digital files.”

“Maybe,” a dew-faced Dewey said, “but the future is coming. E-book sales continue to grow every year. Eventually the printed word will disappear.”

“Hah!” Kleinhut shouted triumphantly. “Other surveys reveal that the growth in e-book sales slowed over 36 percent over that year. We appear to be nearing market saturation in the e-book space. “

“But the market is still growing,” Dewey said.

“Where is my meatball sandwich?!” Winkle bellowed. Kleinhut turned back toward the fridge, where he saw bottles of salad dressing, ketchup, and mustard being heaved backward over Gord’s slumped shoulders. “This isn’t funny anymore!”

“You know what I like about my e-reader?” said Rex. “I can get a new book on it at any time of the day or night. I don’t have to battle storms or crowds or worry about a store’s hours. I can buy whenever the whim takes me.”

Dewey smiled and said, “Here’s a man who understands the benefits of the digital age.”

Kleinhut shook his head. “I will grant that benefit, but how does that suggest that a school library no longer needs books? There is no logical connection between the two.”

“Whoa, there, Jonny boy!” Rex said. “I never claimed to be logical.”

“Amen,” Jon muttered. He turned to Dewey and took a deep breath. “A big part of my job is to connect kids with books that they will love—books that they will get so lost in that the rest of the world will fade away, books that will take then to a different world, maybe a better world. If they want to get there on an e-reader, that’s fine, but when they come in the library it is the book covers that catch their eye. And I’ll tell you one more thing. These kids are digital natives; technology is a tool to them, not an object of fascination and worship. It turns out the regular book has been an excellent tool of its own for hundreds of years, and you can take that and . . .” but before he could utter another word, a piercing scream emanated from the fridge.

“Noooooo!” The refrigerator’s white door shot back and bounced off the countertop as Gord heaved himself up and back with a magnificence reminiscent of a whale breaching. Some wilted lettuce leaves topped his head, and his face was pure agony. In his hand was a flattened, damp doughy meat-smelling mess—a meatball sandwich smashed as flat as an e-reader.

“Someone piled kale, arugula, and apricot salad atop my beautiful meatball sandwich,” he whimpered. “It’s ruined.”

“Dude,” Rex said. “Maybe God is giving you a sign. The age of meatball sandwiches has passed. The time of the worldwide dominance of the arugula kale salad is here. You might as well get used to it, Gordy-boy, because soon there will not be a single meat-based sandwich left on the planet.”

Winkle’s eyes narrowed and he pointed a thick finger at the gym teacher. In a low voice he said, “People who eat salads are a bunch of stuck up, condescending, judgmental health nuts. They think their new ways are so superior, and so everybody has to eat like them. Why can’t they just leave me and my meatball sandwich alone?”

“Exactly,” said Kleinhut as he folded his arms across his chest. “Those of you who want to eat your little digital salad, go ahead. But don’t try to outlaw the meatier stuff for those of us who like it.”

Josh Dewey had his response to Jon worked out in his head, but he was finding it difficult to figure out what point Rex was trying to make. He opened and closed his mouth several times, then decided he should maybe spend the rest of his lunch period online. He turned and walked out the door.

Jon Kleinhut leaned back in his chair, put his feet up on the table, and pulled out a battered copy of The Book Thief. He sighed contentedly.

 

Columnist Jan Kaarsvlam is considering teaching overseas in the next academic year. He is especially interested in hearing from any Christian Schools in Finland, Tuva, Peru, Madagascar, or the North Pole that would value his skills. Jan would be willing to teach from a Christian Perspective in any subject in any language to any students of any worldview. If possible, he would like a pet emu.