Editor’s Note: This post is cross-posted at the Fine Books Blog today.
Many years ago, when I was a first-year high school English teacher, I overheard some of the veteran teachers talking in the faculty room of our school. The conversation went something like this:
“These kids today. No self-discipline.”
“I haven’t taught a really smart class since 1987.”
“Kids these days don’t read, don’t care, and can’t write.”
This kind of conversation made me uncomfortable. While I did have the occasional difficult student — several actually — I liked most of my students and felt that for the most part they worked hard. Because I had worked an office job I hated for a short time before becoming a teacher, I felt that teaching was a gift. I was lucky to be able to work in a classroom and to help others to see the what’s so great about good literature and to teach them to write and to work towards their goals of college or career. I won’t lie and say every day was a good and perfect one or that I always achieved every goal I set or that all my students claimed me as their favorite teacher, but I really did feel like I was lucky to be able to have a job that allowed me to indulge my love of books and to share that appreciation with others, even with the reluctant students who felt books were unlovable and beyond comprehension.
I’ve been away from the classroom for the past eight years, and now I’m an antiquarian bookseller. Sometimes, when I talk with other booksellers I hear remnants of the attitudes of some of the veteran teachers I used to know. Their conversations about bookselling go something like this:
“The book business is dying. It’s been killed by (insert favorite answer here — the internet, the electronic book, the death of print media in general, too many unprofessional booksellers who don’t know what they’re doing).” Etcetera.
I suppose that there’s some truth in those comments, as they are usually made by those with more experience than I, but I don’t like the constant focus on all that’s wrong in the book world. There’s so much that’s right and wonderful about it. You only have to open your eyes and look around. Seek it out.
While I won’t deny that books and print are in a period of — ahem — uncertainty and transition, I find I spend a lot of time trying to find examples of book culture in unlikely places to prove to myself that the book is not dead yet.
On a recent family trip to Disneyland, I was pleasantly surprised to find books used throughout the park to enhance visitors’ experiences. These weren’t books I could buy and take home, but books that made the person who saw them stop and say, “Isn’t that neat?” or “Oh, how lovely!” The use of books at Disneyland is a perfect example of book culture and popular culture in peaceful co-existence.
A few photos will show you what I mean:
A store on Disneyland’s Victorian-era Main Street featured old books in its windows to help evoke the mood of America a century ago:
Disneyland is known for its many lands — Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland, and Fantasyland. But did you know it also has Storybookland?
One of the rides in Storybookland, the Canal Boats, takes visitors on small boats through small, banzai-landscaped villages recreated from those Disney movies that were originally based on fairy tale books — Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and Aladdin. I for one appreciated the nod to the movies’ bookish origins. Here’s the castle from Sleeping Beauty:
The entrance to the Snow White Ride featured a fairy tale book carved in gold:
Inside Sleeping Beauty’s Castle was a series of “books” that told the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty’s story. Each open page was beautifully illuminated by hand in the Disney style:
One of the Main Street stores featured a series of similarly illustrated books that told the story of some Disney classic movies:
The most popular rides at Disneyland and its neighboring park, California Adventure, are known for long lines. The line area for each ride often has a vignette about the ride in order to give those waiting something to look at and talk about. The vignettes are there to help the riders feel the mood of the ride on which they are about to embark. On the Grizzly River Run Rapids ride, the vignette was a desk in a forest ranger’s office. Note the books on the canoe shelf:
We did, of course, see plenty of props made to look like books. Take, for example, this re-creation of the Library from the movie “Beauty and the Beast”. The walls are wood painted to look like bookshelves:
In an exhibit about animation, these interactive computers were made to look like large books at a desk. That’s Tom sitting and working there:
The computer screen “book” asked the user to answer a series of questions like this by touching her answer choice on the screen:
After I answered all of the questions, the book told me which Disney character is most like me:
While Disneyland is not by any means in the business of selling books, the use of books to enhance the ambiance of the park is evident everywhere. While there’s no denying that the printed book vies with other media for our attention, books underpin our culture, popular or otherwise, and sometimes we just need to look in unexpected places to discover that popular culture’s love of books is alive and well. I plan on posting more examples of finding books and book culture in unexpected places as I come across them. As for the end of this post, well, this “storybook ending” was painted on a wall in Disneyland:
See you in the stacks!