There’s an old truism that really is true: Booksellers never die; they just disappear under piles of books. To be sure, never have so many texts been available to so many readers via so many well-advertised gadgets, but I think in the long run the actual, physical book will maintain its place of honor in the archives of human thought.
But that’s not what I came here to write about at all, really. It’s just that I’m thinking about permanence and change, the eagerness of young people to be considered adults, and the desire, perhaps, of many adults to take a step backwards and be rid of responsibilities.
What this all relates to, sort of, is my habit of watching computer TV as I process books to shelve in the shop (“processing” means, for those of you who wonder, simply going through the stacks of books on hand, checking for faults, tidying them if need-be, and putting a price on them). Generally, this is a laid-back activity, requiring only the stacks of waiting books on my left, a few pencils, some cleaning materials, and a place for the finished stacks of books to my right. In between are me and the computer. To keep myself entertained, and to ward off the temptation of *reading* the books I’m supposed to be processing, I watch movies & tv shows on the internet. Lately I’ve become fascinated with the number of shows devoted to home buying. My favorite show follows young people in search of their “first home,” aided by the steadying hand of realtors who help them find their dream houses.
And that’s really my source of fascination. These people are so young, and their “dream houses” are so incredibly overwhelming, with what seem to me impossibly burdensome long-term mortgages and property taxes and fees that I never would have saddled myself with in my twenties. These young people want to rush into adulthood triumphantly, with a 4000 square foot house, complete with all the latest buzzword necessities. Let’s see now, we’ll need an “open floor plan” with “flow” into the “large kitchen” with “stainless steel appliances” and “granite counter-tops.” The floors must be hardwood, and even the walls must already be painted the right colors (for these eager folks cannot spend the time painting or repairing or buying anything for themselves). The house must be complete, like a gigantic dollhouse for them to play in. Which reminds me, the “man cave” is a must-have for married couples, as are separate sinks in the “en suite” bathroom off the sizable master bedroom. Deal-breakers would include: walk-in closets that aren’t large enough to be considered rooms on their own, carpeting of any color, walls that show a little character (that is, that are not painted in the dullest neutral shades imaginable), an unfinished basement where the man-cave is supposed to be, or kitchen cabinets that are unsuitable because of their old-fashioned appearance (imagine! white cabinets!). Nobody wants to spend any time renovating anything. “Move-in ready” and “all new construction” make their ears perk up.
Of course, not all of these young people are married. Many are single, but just feel the need (apparently, it seems, as soon as they find their first job after college) for an up-to-the-minute, state-of-the-art house. For guys, the whole place can be considered a man-cave. For girls, well, of course *everyone* needs an entire floor devoted to entertaining. Don’t they?
Oh dear, oh my. I may sound like an old lady waving her cane at the younguns, but some of the happiest times of my life were spent living in apartments shared with my roommate friends. I didn’t *want* a house of my own. I didn’t *want* to tie myself down to a mortgage or even a neighborhood. I wanted to explore the world (or at least part of it) in my twenties.
Ken and I didn’t acquire this building until we were, well let’s just say quite a bit past our twenties. By that time we really knew what we wanted and needed, and it wasn’t state-of-the-art appliances or granite counter-tops. It was a sturdy building that had been around for a while that we could make our own, by choosing our own paint colors (and painting the interior walls ourselves) and our own furnishings (some inherited from our families and some bought at the thrift store) and our own plan for what sort of rooms we needed and for what purpose (bookstore and apartment, room for us and our books and cats and computers and vinyl record collections – have I missed anything?).
Anyway, this is just another source of perplexity for me, and a conundrum. How, after all, can anyone need to be “leading edge” (be it technology or bathroom design) if “leading edge” means, as in this case, being saddled with onerous long-term commitments? Will that granite counter-top be so fashionable in a few years, or will something else be totally necessary to the next wave of young house-buyers?
Or perhaps I’m all wet. Perhaps these kids are doing in their own way what I did. Perhaps they’re planning to hop from house to house just as freely as I did from apartment to apartment. I just bet, though, that after a while they wouldn’t mind a few roommates to take along on their journey.
A mortgage contract might be just a wee bit harder to dismiss than a yearly rental agreement. And after all, it’s not always possible to flip your house for a profit (that’s another show, which is also fascinating, though sometimes rather depressing).