Des livres achetés au mètre

Ashley Fetters, Politico :

Books by the Foot, a service run by the Maryland-based bookseller Wonder Book, has become a go-to curator of Washington bookshelves, offering precisely what its name sounds like it does. As retro as a shelf of books might seem in an era of flat-panel screens, Books by the Foot has thrived through Democratic and Republican administrations, including that of the book-averse Donald Trump. And this year, the company has seen a twist: When the coronavirus pandemic arrived, Books by the Foot had to adapt to a downturn in office- and hotel-decor business—and an uptick in home-office Zoom backdrops for the talking-head class.

Je me souviens avoir acheté des livres au poids (chez Emmaüs ? dans une bourse aux livres ?), mais je découvre la vente de livres au mètre. Des boutiques de décoration vendent ainsi des livres qui ne seront jamais lus, et des brocanteurs proposent même la location (!) de longueurs de la Blanche.

La librairie new-yorkaise Strand, passée maitresse dans l’art des coups de comm', propose un service de vente au mètre depuis 2016, comme l’explique une revue de presse de France Culture qui évoque le merveilleux service de « manipulation de livres » imaginé par Flann O’Brien. Dans une chronique publiée par l’Irish Times en novembre 1941, le romancier irlandais écrivait :

A visit that I paid to the house of a newly-married friend the other day set me thinking. My friend is a man of great wealth and vulgarity. When he had set about buying bedsteads, tables, chairs and what-not, it occurred to him to buy also a library. Whether he can read or not, I do not know, but some savage faculty for observation told him that most respectable and estimable people usually had a lot of books in their houses. So he bought several book-cases and paid some rascally middleman to stuff them with all manner of new books, some of them very costly volumes on the subject of French landscape painting. I noticed on my visit that not one of them had ever been opened or touched, and remarked the fact. ’When I get settled down properly,’ said the fool, “I’ll have to catch up on my reading.” This is what set me thinking. Why should a wealthy person like this be put to the trouble of pretending to read at all? Why not a professional book-handler to go in and suitably maul his library for so-much per shelf? Such a person, if properly qualified, could make a fortune.

Let me explain exactly what I mean. The wares in a bookshop look completely unread. On the other hand, a school-boy’s Latin dictionary looks read to the point of tatters. You know that the dictionary has been opened and scanned perhaps a million times, and if you did not know that there was such a thing as a box on the ear, you would conclude that the boy is crazy about Latin and cannot bear to be away from his dictionary. Similarly with our non-brow who wants his friends to infer from a glancing around his house that he is a high-brow. He buys an enormous book on the Russian ballet, written possibly in the language of that distant but beautiful land. Our problem is to alter the book in a reasonably short time so that anybody looking at it will conclude that its owner has practically lived, supped and slept with it for many months. You can, if you like, talk about designing a machine driven by a small but efficient petrol motor that would “read” any book in five minutes, the equivalent of five years or ten years’ “reading” being obtained by merely turning a knob. This, however, is the cheap soulless approach of the times we live in. No machine can do the same work as the soft human fingers. The trained and experienced book-handler is the only real solution of this contemporary social problem.

Quatre-vingts ans plus tard1, la satire est devenue réalité avec l’essor des « bibliothèques de la crédibilité », qui forment le décor sur lequel flottent les « têtes parlantes » que nous sommes devenues par écrans interposés. Je dois avouer avoir cédé à cette mode, moins pour remplir de beaux livres le champ de ma webcam que pour en sortir les piles désordonnées de lectures en souffrance. En lieu et place, j’expose mon Macintosh SE/30, qui fait toujours son petit effet. Vanitas vanitatum


  1. J’allais écrire soixante. Je n’arrive toujours pas à me faire à l’idée que nous soyons entrés dans les années 20. ↩︎