Kind of a Niche Market/Luxury Thing?

OK, imagine it’s 1934 and you need a pen. What kind of pen are you going to get? You’re going to get a fountain pen. It’s 1934 remember, there are no ball points, no rollerballs, no Sharpies for writing, it’s a fountain pen or it’s a quill, these are your choices. So you drop your eight shillings, your buck twenty-five, a handful of fenigs whatever and you walk out the store with a fountain pen: a bladder that delivers ink to a nib, in a cool looking bakelite delivery system. So, sure, it requires some maintenance, it’s a bit messy, it needs your frequent attention but you don’t care, you don’t know any different and it writes so well, it feels so good in your hand. You’re happy. Ah! But now it’s 1938 and the Bíró comes along, and then the Bic. Sure it’s cheap and cheerful but hell, it only costs a nickel and this thing isn’t going to leak in my pocket.

    There has been a change. Progress has reared its ugly head once again. But does the fountain pen die out? No, it does not. Here we are a lifetime later and you can still buy a fountain pen. You can get one in Staples for $16.00 or you can get a Mont Blanc for $1,600.00. Fountain pen sales may now only account for the smallest overall percentage of pen sales but, it is a profitable market for someone out there. You don’t need it, you’re probably not going to use it, but it looks great and it feels great and it sure would make a nice graduation present.

Now that e-book sales are pretty much neck and neck with print books sales. Doesn’t that mean that half as many real books, sorry, print books are being manufactured? And doesn’t it follow that a few years down the road, used books are going to start getting kind of scarce? Like petrol in The Road Warrior? And that used books are going to get kind of pricey? Kind of a niche market/luxury thing?

“We got Bradley a ‘real book’ for graduation (class of 2034), a leather-bound edition of The Old Curiosity Shop. No, he didn’t read it! Are you kidding? This thing is freakin huge!

If you go on eBay you can get a really nice, refurbished and working Parker Vacumatic fountain pen for around $200. (I highly recommend it). In 2034 there may well be a store on or around 5th Avenue where you can pick up a Penguin Classic of George Orwell’s 1984 for around the same price – if no one’s watching.


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Too relaxed to read?

One of the most profoundly disturbing moments of my childhood happened when I watched the 1960 George Pal film version of H.G. Well’s, The Time Machine. In the movie our hero, Rod Taylor is demonstrating real anger and frustration towards the Eloi, a species of milky, docile “cows” who at one point may have been fairly intelligent and naturally inquisitive modern-day humans, but exist now only as a simple and blissed out food source for the subterranean Morlocks. Pampered, relaxed and terminally dull, the Eloi sit around eating fruit and, one supposes, occasionally screwing (just to pass the time and keep the numbers up). Rod is raging at the Eloi, “What about culture? You pathetic bastards!”  The Eloi are lounging around a large Grecian bath and raising an eyebrow at Raging Rod, “Chill out man, we have everything we need and if a few of us get picked off once in a while, well, more fruit for the rest of us, I guess.” I’m paraphrasing.

  “Look.” Yells Rod, “You’ve got all these books and you haven’t been near them in centuries.” He walks up to a conveniently placed marble bookshelf, sticks his hand into the last book and with a sweep of his arm turns the lot to a huge cloud of dust. Books so old, so neglected, so unread that they have literally disintegrated. Centuries of ignorance, of complacency, raining down on the unconcerned Eloi’s heads.

Living, as I do, on the upper west side and owning, as I do, a used book store, I can certainly sympathize with Rod. We get a few Eloi in, wandering around with an apple in one hand a girlfriend’s hip in the other. I remember the profound fear I felt as a child watching this movie. Well, why are they just sitting around waiting for death? Why haven’t they touched their books? Why don’t they fight back? The terror I felt for the complacent Eloi never left me. What happened to them? Man by nature, desires to know, but not to read?

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