Paul Greenberg

"Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn 'em to ashes, then burn the ashes. That's our official slogan."

--Ray Bradbury, "Fahrenheit 451"

"When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books."

--James Tracy, headmaster, Cushing Academy

Without a Gibbon to record the decline and fall of a civilization in proper detail and literary fashion, a few scattered notes on the continuing collapse may have to do. Perhaps these will be of use to some future archaeologist digging through the electronic junkyard that will prove our civilization's equivalent of Roman ruins. Buried somewhere in the vast pile of old Fax machines, laptops and iPhones, this little news item may help explain how we came a-cropper:

Going Rogue by Sarah Palin FREE

In Ashburnham, Mass., in once proud New England, land of the Pilgrims and Puritans, of iron-hard Adamses and dreamy Emersons, a prep school has just given up on books. The headmaster of Cushing Academy, one James Tracy, doesn't see any need for them. Not any more. Anybody who's anybody or wants to be now has an iPhone with apps, a Kindle or whatever the Next Big Thing turns out to transiently be. Who needs books?

To quote this very model of the modern headmaster: "When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books."

There you have another sign of the shiny, color-coded cultural Apocalypse, one of the many such signs all around if we weren't too busy googling to notice them. The barbarians are not just at the gates but deep within the citadel -- at the head of the very schools entrusted with passing on the heritage of the past. How the mighty have fallen.

There are still those of us who see something other than an outdated technology when we look at books -- like a great store of value, the very currency of knowledge, of wisdom and of whatever of virtue may be taught by the written word.

"There are only a few of us left," as an old lawyer out of Mississippi named Billy Moore Clark, pronounced Billy Mo' Cla'k in these latitudes, used to confide when in his cups and sighing for the days of a lost grace.

We happy few can only respond to Headmaster Tracy's view with a slow, sad shake of the head. For what other response would be more fitting when confronted by someone so blind to the use and beauty of books, so immune to their charm, so impervious to the spell they cast, so cut off from the delight of not just reading but experiencing a great book?


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.