“House of Paper”/Evolution in a Digital Era


Not all books owned come with the intention of reading. Some books can fill a house, but with little purpose other than decoration and as a reflection of how people want to be viewed by the outside world. With the rapid growth of digital literacy it is arguable that books are far less valuable then they once were. In the “House of Paper”, Carlos Maria Dominguez indicates that the function of a book on a bookshelf changes from person to person. Through textual evidence and explication of the character of Carlos Brauer, Dominguez persuades the reader and himself that in the Digital Age the survival of books relies on the recognition of the different purposes that a book holds.

Books are “capable of surviving one, two, or twenty centuries, of in some ways defeating the sands of time.” (Dominguez76) As seen through Nicole Howard in “The Life Story of a Technology” books are survivors, but not without change. Although a book is not a living organism, it is in a lot of ways alive and must adapt with the times, or face the threat of being left behind. There are a lot of aspects about books that have already changed over time. Typography for one is no longer created for its aesthetic beauty, as it once was in the 15th century, but now is printed with the mindfulness of space and clarity. There is no question to whether this new format changes the experience, but the consequences of holding onto the past too tightly result in the destruction of the object. In “The House of Paper” Carlos Brauer insisted on reading books that came before the twentieth century with candle light and urged his peers to do the same. The consequence that came with the inability to accept a book as an evolving technology resulted in the literal destruction of his index-file cabinet, without of which he could no longer find any of his books. Brauer was reluctant to create a modern device that would section off his books, but came to the sickening conclusion without the technological progress the books could no longer be found and read. In chapter two of “The House of Paper” Dinarli complains about people who bind old books. “I can’t persuade them to give up the obscure pleasure of the guillotine.” (Dominguez28) Binders are meant to give a book life again so that it can be used for new purposes and it can survive. However, many hold on to the history of what a book was and are reluctant to use it for anything else. They let books sink into their own graves to preserve what they once were. Books weren’t meant to be chained down to desks forever and they shouldn’t be treated as though they were.

With the invention of The Printing Press books became easily accessible to everyone. The journey of a book is no longer singular, but multi-dimensional. In the House of Paper Dominguez gives the reader several examples about the ways books change people’s destines and the journeys that they take them on, but what is even more remarkable is the way that a person can change a book’s destiny. It can be argued that a book doesn’t have a destiny because it is not alive. However, In “The House of Paper” as well as Howard’s “The Life of a Technology” there are a lot of similarities between books and people. In “The House of Paper” books have human characteristics; they laugh and talk with their owners and there a lot of images with books that have human facial features. Howards formation of the autobiography of a book was established in three sections that resembled a human lifespan; youth, adolescence, and adulthood. The relevance in all of these similarities lies into two explanations. One, books evolve over time like people do because they are essentially alive and two, being the way that people can change a books destiny. “To build up a library is to create a life.” (Dominguez35) Meaning, people are what give a book a life and they can easily take that life away. On page 54 of “The House of Paper” Dominguez learns of the books that were “carefully laid out in such a way that they reproduced the mass and outline of a human body.” It is interesting to note that the books didn’t place themselves on the bed in that formation, but were put there by a person. The magic and value that books hold is only animated as long as the reader gives it to them. It is the responsibility of people alone to determine the survival of a book by giving the book multi functions.

With the technological advancements in the digital era, books aren’t exactly the most convenient resource to use for reading anymore. In a lot of cases they are often bulky, heavy objects that take up unnecessary space. In mass quantities they can overwhelm homes and grow out from there original booksheleves just as they did to Brauer and Domiguez. Ebooks have become the prominent source of reading in this period and books for reading have decreased rapidly from what it was a century ago. Now, like so many times before, books have evolved. The functions of a book change from person to person. In the beginning of Chapter 4 it describes books being used as furniture, as means to keep furniture together—propping up a table, they are used to store things; leaves, flowers, money, letters…Braurer even uses the books to build a house. Books can be used for the simple satisfaction of having other people view them. Delgado kept his books in a separate part of his house with no intention of ever reading most of them, but still felt an overwhelming sense of pride when people saw them. He claimed that, “books should not get contaminated by domestic life.” (Dominguez 34) There are people and books that disagree with the function of being a decoration. Books can act as entity of a person, like an arm or leg. A book can be reflection of one’s own journey and can be falling to bits, with a broken spine and a missing cover, but is kept as a reminder of who that person is. Marshal Mcluhan illustrates what Dominguez writes on 21 in “The Medium is the Massage.” Books can function as a form of show business. Dominguez writes;

There were brilliant stars in the literary firmament, people who earned a fortune overnight with dreadful books that were promoted by their publishers, in newspaper supplements, through marketing campaigns, literary prizes, ghastly films, and prominent, paid-for-positions in bookshop windows. (Dominguez21)

A purpose of a book can sometimes simply be produced as an object that only serves to a monitorial value. Just as people fall into the Harry Potter franchise. It’s about marketing a book and giving it the multi-purpose to become a movie and a poster and a five-foot cut out of the heroine. Owning the book can be a symbol of being apart of something.

Brauer’s inability to see books with any other purpose besides things that needed to be read was his fatal flaw when it came to his books survival. In a lot of ways Brauer was a metaphor for what Mcluhan would refer to as “rearview mirror thinking”. Instead of torturing himself and letting himself be kicked out of his bedroom and take cold showers in both the summer and the winter, why didn’t he just buy a kindle? Owning a book to read it is no longer enough to sustain it. If there is an attachment, or another function it is hard for a book to progress into the digital era. Braurer’s reluctance to see a book as an entity that went past something that could be read is what led those books the path to their watery grave. The lack of innovation from the owner can also change the destiny of a book. Dominguez decided the fate of the Conrad book when he saw the destruction of the other books in the sea. when he saw the destruction of the other books in the sea. “What else could a book do here but bury itself in the sand, let itself be eaten away in the darkness, suddenly break the surface like the remains of a shipwreck?” (Dominguez85) The Conrad’s book, although it could not be read had in that moment had the purpose of a talisman. Thus, it survived but if the owner had chosen alternatively it could have easily have been to waste away at the bottom of the ocean.

The survival of book relies on the owner recognizes its different functions. The function of a book changes from person to person, but in all cases a book has surpassed its need to be something that is merely read. Through the story of Brauer and the choices of Dominguez the survival of a book can be found based on the recognition of the books evolution. If a book is used as something from the past, it will stay in the past. Digital Literacy will not destroy the book as long as the book can change its function. Just because the book is just read, doesn’t mean it has died. It has just evolved.