Will you want your parents’ paper books when they pass away?
A recent email from my father, a long-time horologist and antique clock repairman, noted a societal trend that some antiquarians find alarming. Antique clocks currently sell for only about half what they were worth ten years ago, and a number of other types of antique furniture are experiencing the same downturn. My brother pointed out an article on Forbes that discussed the problem.
“This is an Ikea and Target generation. They live minimally, much more so than the boomers. They don’t have the emotional connection to things that earlier generations did,” [Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM)] notes. “And they’re more mobile. So they don’t want a lot of heavy stuff dragging down a move across country for a new opportunity.”
A member of a horology mailing list whose email my father quoted said much the same thing—the younger generation “only need their smart phones and a place to sleep.” He despaired that today’s youth only read the Internet, rather than the magazines he’d grown up with, and worried that when he passed away, his kids would toss out all the antique clocks, radios, tools, and other old things he’d spent his life collecting without a second thought.
There may be more than a touch of “you darned kids, get off my lawn” generational misunderstanding there—after all, the Internet today contains much more material on a broader range of topics than all those old magazines. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong about kids’ lack of attachment to older things. Especially the ones who prefer keeping their reading collection on their phones, tablets, or e-readers.
But what does that portend for the older generation’s collections of books? The Forbes article doesn’t even mention them. Given that ebook adoption seems to have plateaued and plenty of people (even plenty of younger people) still prefer printed books, at least we can say that people might still want those printed books more than they might want antique furniture. There are even new bookstores opening, though there are also those bookstores that are struggling to find a customer base today.
But nothing guarantees that kids will want their parents’ libraries. Maybe they’re among the minority who prefer ebooks. Or maybe they simply don’t have room for their parents’ stuff. With that in mind, it might be a good idea for people with aging parents with lots of books to start thinking ahead of time about how they want to deal with them.
It’s also worth noting that one of the benefits of ebooks is that they don’t take up a lot of space and leave a lot of physical objects around to deal with after you die—though, unfortunately, the current state of digital property laws means that they by and large aren’t considered inheritable, either. (Unless you break those laws by cracking the DRM, of course.)
Of course, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. I’m sure that a century ago, a lot of buggy whips and harness tack ended up on rubbish heaps. And the fact that old things are set aside in favor of new at least means our society is still evolving. But I do find myself hoping that at least some people will still want to keep a few old things around.
I had an offer to take a relative’s piano when they “moved on” and I passed. Just couldn’t see lugging the thing around for decades.
Books are perhaps an odd example because — let’s be frank — it’s rare that a child and parent have similar literary tastes. I buy fantastic (and rare) books all the time, but if I were to die, I have no doubt my family would give away or throw out all of what I used to prize. Additionally, 1)the younger relative may have no interest in reading and 2) space limitations can make it impossible to keep books. By the way, author Jack Matthews has written an essay or two about the second life granted to books by estate sales.
They’re wrong about the issue of declining prices; the market for antique clocks is feeling the same effect as almost every other type of collectible.
It’s not that people don’t want the clocks; it’s that the internet gives buyers access to a huge number of sellers.
It used to be hard or impossible to find collectibles, and that made it a seller’s market. Now it is easy, making it a buyer’s market.
A friend of mine who is 72 has over 15,000 books, not to mention around 3,000 CD’s and hundreds of LP’s. I wouldn’t want to be either of his two sons when he passes away. What do you do with all this stuff?
For someone to want to keep an item, they’ll want an emotional connection to said item, be it books or old clocks. For books that mean that I have far more of an attachment to the Hobbit (the first novel I read in English) than my father’s old books chronicling WWII history. I think the only books I’ll keep, are ones I read as a child, and that I’d like my children to read. Children’s books and cookbooks are ones that will never go out of style, but lets face it, we read a lot of throwaway literature (Sturgeon’s rule), books that will be read once and never again. Those books no longer have a purpose beyond ornamentation, and nothing really is lost if those go into the trash.
The problem is also that you can’t even give books like that away to libraries these days, and forget selling them on ebay or to used book stores/antiquarians – unless you have something unique and really valuable, it’s just not worth the hassle.
I have a beautiful collection of books and two daughters that both don’t particularly like to read. My youngest said one day that when I die she will sell everything and keep just one book to remember me by. She said it with vicious smile to torment me and everybody burst into laughter. It pains me, but I have accepted my fate. The only question that remains is which book will it be?
I want every book I can lay my hands on. & my son wants MY books. Don’t believe all the crapola you read. E-books don’t have soul.
One major change is that books are easier than ever to get. As a kid, in the little town where I lived there was no bookstore and the Internet was far in the future. When there was a book I especially wanted, the librarian at our public library was kind enough to order it for me. Now, even though it was first published almost sixty years ago, it’s easily available online:
The current ease with which books can be found reduces the need to acquire and keep them ‘just in case.’ For all but the rarest books, if there’s a book you want, you can find and order it easily from home. In that sense, a large library matters less.
If you’re interest in the history of rocketry, the one I linked above remains excellent, as demonstrated by the fact that six decades after it came out, it’s still selling for about $15—probably more than the new price. It is particularly good with WWII developments.
My grandmother and I were a bookclub of two. We were always discussing and lending each other books. We had a shared love of world literature and long novels you could really sink into. She turned me on to Charles Dickens and Naguib Mafouz and Isaac Beshevis Singer. Alas, the bookclub came to an end when she had a stroke and could no longer read. When my family started disbanding her library, I claimed many of her paperbacks and still have them to this day. I’ve read some of them, some of them I still need to get to because I always have too many books! It makes me feel like the book club, and my grandmother, still exists in spirit.
I have a large book collection and no children to keep or trash it. What I should do is find some, probably a non-relative, who loves books and will want to keep them. Other my estate (who ever that will be) gets to dispose of them.
Want my parents’ old paperbacks? Are you kidding, I don’t even want my own!
If I bought “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” first edition with dust jacket it might be worth $$ based on events *when* I want to sell it. Contrary-wise, if I wanted to add to the HP fan base, an electronic copy (if Kindle) can only be lent for a single two week period to one person AND NEVER AGAIN! Yet, if I have a dog-eared paperback HP&PS, I can lend it as many times to as many people as are considerate enough to return it.