The Shelf and Other Symbols of Bachelorhood

Recently, I bought a Kindle and now I’ve thought about it too much and loaded it with metaphorical significance.

First though, I need to tell you about The Shelf.  This is The Shelf.

As I mentioned in the last post, I lived at home with my parents for 3 years.  As with anyone caught in a state of purgatory, I developed symbols to keep hope alive.  Like Bruce Wayne climbing out of that jail-pit, I needed hope that I would have the 20s that all the seasons of Friends promised me I would have.  If network television was going to lie to me, then there really wasn’t any point in continuing on.

My symbol of bachelorhood and independence: The Shelf.  Ever since I can remember, I have been a collector.  When I was a kid it was comic books and there was nary a Wednesday afternoon that I didn’t ride my bike up to the store to grab my new issues.  When I entered my teens, I became intensely fascinated with classic rock and began seeking out Beatles and Who and Dylan CDs like they were the hottest bands on Total Request Live or something.  After my all of my CDs were stolen, the obsession turned to DVDs.  I wanted to have the best collection out of all my friends, even if they didn’t realize how good it was.  “What do you mean you don’t own the three-disc special edition of Close Encounters?” was my plea to often unappreciative and increasingly disinterested friends.

As such, by the time I graduated college, I had quite the impressive collection of favorites, cult hits, TV shows, nostalgia buys, classics, modern classics, and Muppets (because muppets are genre in and of themselves, obviously).  I knew I had them but that wasn’t enough: they needed to be displayed.  Hence, I dreamt (re: idly thought of sometimes) of The Shelf–a tribute to my collector victories and a physical symbol of my hobbies.  While with my folks, the DVDs and such were packed away in boxes, relegated to the back of the entertainment unit, or cluttered amidst old textbooks in my closet.  This was not the home they deserved.

When I moved out, my brother and his now-fiancee allowed me to use their Ikea shelf (which is probably called something multi-syllabic with an overabundance of umlauts).  Once I put everything on it, I stood back and admired at its glory.

The Shelf was born.

Finally, I could see it.  It was a small, trivial victory, but it was my victory.

That’s when it was pointed out to me.  The hard truth.  The grim reality.

“You know all of those titles are on Netflix, right?” 

This was my brother and roommate.  I looked over all the titles: LostBattlestar GalacticaTwin Peaks.  Hitchcock, Scorsese, Whedon.  Almost 90 percent of my Shelf was available, streaming, to anybody who is willing to pay $8 a month.

There are now two ways the rest of this essay can go: one I can start sound like A Very Old Person Indeed and opine about the digital age and use a lot of very descriptive words that compares the smell of books to, like, an olfactory orgasm or something.  Or I can take the route of The Future Is Now And I’m Tweeting From Mt. Kilimanjaro and talk about how great it is that pretty much all media can be condensed down to, like, 3 sleek devices.

But we all know it’s not that simple.  There’s a romanticism attached to Old Media–the look, the feel, and, yes, even the smell.  But anyone who has been stuck on an airplane with the same copy of the latest John Irving will tell you that it would be great if they could switch over to something trashier, even if only for a few minutes.  Anyone who has been listening to Top 40 radio stations their entire lives should probably welcome the fact that they can listen to obscure Pink Floyd B-sides with the touch of a button.

Ideally, technology goes hand in hand with democracy.  Is it cool that I have the entire series of a British cult series on DVD?  Yes (to me).  But how much cooler is it that someone in Denver, Colorado can stumble across it without having to face the judgement of sneering fetishists?  That’s a global-type of cool.

And then there’s the idea that simply having stuff is cool and fun and connects us.  Seriously, having stuff is important.  Some stuff you need, like a couch.  And some stuff you don’t, like most art.  But it’s still nice to see that someone also invested money into a framed vintage Vertigo poster.

So I have bought a real Kindle (the one on my iPhone doesn’t count).  And as a result have purchased physical books for (maybe) the last time.

Is it the end of an era?  No, that’s ridiculous.  It’s just progress.

It will mean that I’ll have to get better at decorating though.  I’m gonna need swatches, guys, lots and lots of swatches.

Or, y’know, a girlfriend.

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