“I get the sense that books, too, are becoming fashionable again—we had this fantastic new toy, we played around with it in a million different ways, and I think the entire economic model of the web is about to collapse.” If you dig in deep to journalist and political commentator Andrew Sullivan’s assertions, voiced last week in an interview with Vox, there’s a tiny non sequitur at work: after all, does the impending failure of the web really have some causative relationship with the popularity of books? It’s a quibble, because Sullivan, who’s written some interestingly contrarian books himself, is always worth paying attention to when it comes to the direction of the winds blowing through the popular culture.
As to those putatively suddenly popular books, what good are they? Can they, say, make a person happier? That’s a question that Ceridwen Dovey asked fruitfully over at The New Yorker last year, examining the growing subdiscipline of bibliotherapy as a way of combatting the psychic blahs. Whatever the answer, it seems that books can make you wealthier—and not just books of the Tony Robbins and Napoleon Hill variety, but instead books, period. Three economists at Italy’s University of Padua studied 6,000 boys in nine European countries and discovered that those with easy access to books earned a quarter to a third more than those who did not. The findings are doubtless influenced by all sorts of what economists call externalities—a bookish lad is likely to find a professional job, for instance, that would almost by definition pay more than, say, clerking in a grocery store. And why aren’t girls, who worldwide buy and read more books than boys, part of the study? Still, the message holds: read, be happy, grow rich. At least rich enough to afford to buy more books.
If you’re not rich, as Victor Hugo showed us in Les Miserables, you might be tempted to steal a loaf of bread—or perhaps a book. But how many loaves of bread can one boy eat? And how many books can one person steal? In the case of Sci-Hub, a pirate site in Kazakhstan, the answer is millions. Reports the Chronicle of Higher Education (article behind paywall), a newly founded sister site, Library Genesis, is harvesting thousands on thousands of university press books—500 from Cornell University Press alone as of last month. So far the Kazakh government seems to show no inclination to shut the site down, and lawsuits from publishers have resulted only in a slight alteration of IP addresses.
Gabriel García Márquez, the great Colombian novelist, died before he could see such things as American rapprochement with Cuba and the horrific prospect of a sequel to the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. He died a little more than two years ago, in fact, in Mexico City. Why, then, is it that only now are his ashes being laid to rest in Cartagena? Perhaps, notes the BBC, because the novelist himself had a love-hate relationship with the city, hating the class and ethnic divisions it represented but loving its beauty despite times of choler.
Were Allen Ginsberg alive, he would turn 90 today, reason to raise up a howl of celebration. Many happy returns to him, and to Gabito, and to us all!
Gregory McNamee is a contributing editor.
Lead image of Andrew Sullivan credited to Trey Ratcliff. Image above right of Gabriel García Márquez credited to José Lara.