I’ve been digging through old episodes of Black Books, a relatively little-known comedy series from the UK’s Channel 4. The show is set in a second-hand bookshop, run by Bernard Black, a chainsmoking, alcoholic Irishman (Dylan Moran) who shuts the shop at strange hours, swears at customers and becomes enraged when people actually want to buy his books.
It started me thinking about something Nick Currie said at the second Really Modern Library meeting. We were talking about mass digitization and the apparently growing appeal of ‘the original’, the ‘real thing’. The feel of a printed page; the smell of a first edition and so on. He mentioned a previous riff of his about ‘the post-bit atom’ – the one last piece of any analog cultural object that can’t be digitized – and which, in an age of mass digitisation, becomes fetishized to precisely the degree that the digitized object becomes a commodity.
So Black Books struck me as (besides being horribly funny) strangely poignant. While acerbic, in many ways it’s full of nostalgia for a kind of independent bookshop that’s rapidly disappearing. Bernard Black would be considerably less endearing if he was my only chance of getting the book I wanted; but that in the age of Amazon and Waterstone’s, he represents a post-bit atom of bibliophilia, and as such is ripe for fetishization.