Dystopia: a world without books

Photograph: book shelves
Empty bookshelves in the university library of the Free University of Berlin
Sven Werkmeister / flickr

Dystopia: a world without books

A bibliophile’s nightmare

A house without books is a poor house, even if beautiful rugs are covering its floors and precious wallpapers and pictures cover its walls.

Hermann Hesse

For bookworms, a world without incessant reading is unthinkable. Even the fact that the amount that can be read is limited by one's lifetime gave the German author Arno Schmidt cause for worry: "If we say 1 new book every 5 days," he muses in his book Aus Julianischen Tagen, published in 1961, "then this leads to the distressing state of affairs that one is only capable of reading 3,000 books in a lifetime." The conclusion is swift to follow: "You simply do not have time to read kitsch or average books: You will not even manage all of the literary classics in your life."

Book fanatics and, even more so, bibliophiles and bibliomaniacs, who value the cultural heritage of books and want to read, borrow, own or just leaf through as many of them as possible, are confronted by an impossible task and are compelled to be selective. However, as history teaches us, a free choice of what to read is often easier said than done. Books were always monitored and controlled by the powerful; they have been forbidden, censored and burned. They have attained an enormous symbolic character as the paper embodiment of human education and self-reflection. Where they disappear – such as in Ray Bradbury's famous science fiction utopia Fahrenheit 451 (1953) – bondage and barbarism lurk.