Books that Die a Natural Death

It’s interesting how people seem to always fear the same cultural downfalls of things no matter what the decade. You could tag Woolf’s quote as if it was spoken in 2009 and it would fit.

“This is hardly the first time that the literati have worried about the demise of book publishing. A July 1927 BBC radio debate, “Are Too Many Books Written and Published?” pitted Virginia Woolf against her publisher husband, Leonard. The Woolfs considered the impact of bestsellers as well as the distractions modern life posed to the “reading habit”—but their most interesting exchange focussed on cost and on the future of books as objects. Leonard argues for hand-made books, criticizing the appetite of the masses for popular fiction, and lamenting the death of quality. Virgina answers:

Books ought to be so cheap that we can throw them away if we do not like them, or give them away if we do. Moreover, it is absurd to print every book as if it were fated to last a hundred years. The life of the average book is perhaps three months. Why not face this fact? Why not print the first edition on some perishable material which would crumble to a little heap of perfectly clean dust in about six months time? If a second edition were needed, this could be printed on good paper and well bound. Thus by far the greater number of books would die a natural death in three months or so. No space would be wasted and no dirt would be collected.

– Virginia Woolf

This makes a certain sense: many books aren’t worth keeping around forever, though Virginia’s rationale means that the marketplace alone determines which books get a second edition in a sturdier material. It seems worth noting that her own first novel, “The Voyage Out,” met with immediate success, making her, perhaps, a bit biased. In such a system, how many brilliant books might disappear?”

(via Books that Die a Natural Death: The Book Bench:The New Yorker.)

About bunkercomplex

My name is Andrea, and I'm a 23 year old Southern California girl and a newly minted Speech-Language Pathologist. When I’m not high-fiving 8-year-olds for finally producing a good /r/ sound, I fill my time with Peter Gabriel, Ayn Rand, Phil Hendrie, bicycles, Korean stationery, movie marathon nights, and baking. You can email me at
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