Commentary: Why the arts matter: Seth Marko on the arts and books


Seth Marko recently opened The Book Catapult bookstore in South Park with Jen Powell, his wife. He has also worked at Warwick’s in La Jolla and the UC San Diego bookstore. We asked him to tell us why the arts matter.

As a purveyor of books, naturally I think that as an art form they matter a great deal to the good of society as a whole. But why?

Books are humanity’s physical form of communicating stories, opinions, ideas, histories, mythologies and folklore. They transfer knowledge, information and life stories from one generation to the next, keeping our culture alive. The sharing of these stories and histories informs that culture and binds humanity together — without them, there is no knowledge of our collective past.

If the book as an art form didn’t matter and a thirst for knowledge of that past didn’t exist, would a new translation of a 3,000-year-old epic poem from Greece be a best-seller in 2017? (Homer’s “The Odyssey,” newly translated by Emily Wilson.)

It’s easy for us in this digital information age to become distracted by our excessive connectivity and access to Wikipedia, but to slow down and read a novel or a short story in book form forces a reset, even for just a few minutes. Books lure us in with their lush cover art, sway us with the feel of their pages across our fingertips, and get us to fall in love with the stories they contain.

What is that if not art? And how can that not matter?

Books are that rare art where participation is just as important to the strength of the form as the creation itself. Every reader brings their own history, knowledge and opinions to each book, whether a novel or a collection of short stories or the history of the American Revolution.

To me, that’s the beauty of story — everyone brings a little bit of themselves to every book they read. Without a reader, what is a book? I might ask, without books, are we human?