In a vast marble hall lighted by candles, a group of people last night quietly and elegantly raised their glasses and toasted an old and dear friend, one they'd grown up with, and one they had just learned had no death to fear -- the book.
Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin invited about 150 guests dressed in black tie to the Library of Congress main hall to celebrate the completion of a report titled "Books in Our Future," which draws on interviews with authors, publishers, educators, scholars and computer experts. The report, which will be presented to the Joint Committee on the Library today, studied the influence that new technologies may have on books, reading and the printed word.
And the future is good: The book will survive. Hackers beware.
"Computers only extend the memory. Books extend the wisdom," said the new Senate majority whip, Alan Simpson of Wyoming, as he took his turn at the podium to make a toast. "And so to books. They will endure. . ."
"It would be most un-American for us to yearn for the days before the computer," said Boorstin, "any more than we could yearn for the days before the alphabet, before movable type, before photography or phonography, or movies or radio or television. . .
"The hallmark of technological progress is obsolescence," Boorstin continued. "The hallmark of books is survival."
Boorstin was also celebrating the appropriation by Congress of $11.5 million for a building dedicated to book preservation at Fort Detrick, Md., where 500,000 books each year will be treated with a compound to extend their life span from decades to centuries. He also announced that Congress had appropriated $81.5 million to refurbish the Library of Congress.
And who better to celebrate the good news about the book but a roomful of writers and publishers, including Elizabeth Drew, William Safire, Clare Boothe Luce, David McCullough and Lincoln Caplan.
Louis L'Amour, who flew in from the West, where he is working on his 18th novel about the Sackett family, wore a western-style tuxedo with rounded pockets with points. No PC for him.
"I'm a two-fingered typist," L'Amour said.
L'Amour was on the committee to study the future of the book. "From the library I have at home, I could rebuild the world," L'Amour said. "I can travel across the desert with a drink in my hand. I can eat in a very expensive restaurant, but never pay the bill. . ."
Al Silverman, president of the Book-of-the-Month Club, said he isn't worried about the rival television or computer. "The baby boom generation is concerned about their children. They are raising a generation not hooked on TV." And sales in his Quality Paperback book division are up.
Chief Justice Warren Burger also came to pay tribute to the written word. He told a story of when as a boy he had to stay home one year from school because he was ill. "I read and read and read," he said. Everything and anything.
And when he went back to school he was amazed by the illiteracy of his classmates.
"And so I propose a toast to books," Burger said, "even bad books."