Good morning, good evening or good night – whenever it is where you are, I hope these words find you well. Today’s blog post is going to concern itself largely with books – those vaguely rectangular things, between two pieces of card or boards, with a picture on the front, and absolutely no buttons. Remember those? I hope you do.
As I write, unexpected sunshine streaming through the window, I’m constantly having to fight to keep my concentration on the computer. This is due to the large and extremely attractive pile of books sitting on the table beside me. They’re calling to me, begging to be loved and cherished and demanding all my attention (they’re probably a little needy, because I picked them up yesterday at a second-hand/antiquarian bookshop, so we can forgive them that – but it’s still a distraction!) I think there are a few gems in here, and so I’ll tell you about them.
The first one to draw my eye when I entered the shop was ‘Wulf’, by Kevin Crossley-Holland. No matter what condition this book was in, no matter what it was about, I knew as soon as my eye fell on it that it was coming home with me. I would happily read Kevin Crossley-Holland’s shopping list and no doubt derive enjoyment therefrom, because I’ve relished everything else I’ve ever read by him, but also I knew the book would have an Anglo-Saxon aspect just by its title, which is right up my street, too. I bought some Philip Reeve, some Catherine Fisher (of course), some Margaret Mahy – who I’ve always wanted to read – some Terry Jones, who writes the most fantastic absurd tales for children, some Kate Thompson, some Siobhan Parkinson, and one by Frances Hardinge. I bought a book called ‘Wolf’, partly because of the pleasing symmetry with ‘Wulf’, but also because the storyline sounded amazing – I had never heard of the author (Gillian Cross), but I’m looking forward to finding out more about her. This particular bookshop was the first place I ever came across the work of Catherine Fisher, and I’ve since become a devoted fan, so I know the stock is chosen with a discerning and careful eye, and I never fail to find wonderful nuggets of pure bookish joy there.
The jewel in my crown, though – the Queen in my pack of cards – is the book which was by far the most expensive, but by far the easiest one to buy. It’s a first edition of ‘The Wizard of Earthsea’, by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s a hardback. It’s from 1971. Despite the fact that it’s an ex-library copy, the only evidence of this is the stamps on the front flyleaf – the interior of the book is a model of readerly restraint, and there are no markings or scribblings or tea-stains or anything of that nature. I, of course, already own this story – I’ve loved my ‘Earthsea Quartet’ for many years, and I’ve read a significant fraction of Ursula Le Guin’s prolific output – but I had to have this wonderful book. It gave me a feeling of light-headedness as I handled it, and I just knew that if I left it behind, I’d never have a second’s peace – I’d be tormenting myself until I found another one. It was at once a connection with the past, and also a link with my future – I’ll treasure this book for ever.
And so, to the real point of this post. Books, especially old ones, are such a feast for the senses, in my opinion. I hope I’m not alone in sticking, much in the manner of a barnacle, to my convictions regarding books and reading. Sometimes I feel like the only paper enthusiast in a sea of screens, and it can be very disheartening. I used to work as a bookseller, and I’m used to seeing the many ways in which e-books are killing bookshops – a tragedy, in my eyes – but I think, even if I hadn’t had this background, I’d still be a ‘real’ book reader, as opposed to an e-book reader. Recently, my husband and I were in a large computer shop – he was looking for some piece of magical computer-witchery, don’t ask me what – and I tried out a model e-reader which the shop had on display. It did nothing for me. Not only did the ‘turning’ of the ‘page’ hold no mystery, there was no tactile feedback, like I’m used to with a book. After a few minutes of messing about with the first example, I moved onto the next model, which was hopelessly frozen – none of its buttons worked, and it just had to sit there, awkward and apologetic, tethered to its display case with absolutely no purpose. This experience cemented me as a paper-lover, once and for all.
Books are works of art, in every respect, not just in their contents, but in the designs on their covers, and even in the skill needed to bind them. How can you feel a magical connection with a book you can delete at the touch of a button? I feel like I’m entering a fairytale cave full of treasures every time I enter a bookshop – I don’t think the same feeling is had from browsing a list of books to download. You don’t have any emotional investment in that sort of book-buying; you miss out on the thrill of the scent of a book, the feeling of its pages, the comforting way in which the spine just settles into the palm of your hand. Plus, if you drop a paperback, you don’t need to worry about breaking it beyond repair, and – unless some miscreant rips pages out – you don’t need to worry about it getting ‘frozen’ and refusing to work.
Am I alone? Are there any other paper-lovers out there? Care to share an opinion?