Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Pollux writes:

You call Eric Drooker when you need surreal cityscapes depicted at interesting angles. His past work has revealed multiple, parallel New York Cities ranging from neo-Egyptian versions of it to arctic visions of the city.

Now we have his cover for the October 19, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, called “In the World of Books.” Drooker has shown us visions of stacked books before, for the November 6, 2006 cover of The New Yorker.

However, while his 2006 cover depicted a man happily reading a book, on this 2009 cover we see a very small figure that is completely dwarfed by a series of book-skyscrapers. No reading is being done. The books look threatening here, not inviting. The books intimidate rather than nourish.

Drooker’s figure walks into a soft pastel glow, perhaps representing the light of knowledge. Are these books that he’s never read but really should? The volume of reading he needs to do is daunting.

I’m reminded by a passage from Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, a book about books: “Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out: the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages, the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success, the Books Dealing with Something You’re Working On At The Moment, the Books You Want to Own So They’ll Be Handy Just in case…”

Books are still with us, real books that have yet to be supplanted by upstart e-books and perhaps never will. They remain a dominant part of the culture, and the New York City publishing industry remains a vital part of the cultural landscape.

The October 19, 2009 issue of The New Yorker has within its page articles on books and the publishing world: Rebecca Mead’s piece on Alloy Entertainment (which, according to the company’s website, is “a fully integrated entertainment company that develops and produces original books, television series, and feature films”) and Joan Acocella’s review of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.

The issue also contains Daniel Zalewski’s story on books for obstreperous children and James Wood on Lydia Davis’s short fiction.

Books are still with us. They’re our friends, our allies. But they seem less like friends on Drooker’s cover than sad giants increasingly neglected in a world filled with other distractions and entertainments. They are like Tolkien’s Ents: still very formidable and powerful, but increasingly enshrouded by sadness and oblivion.

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