Happiness is a Dusty Book

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?


16 thoughts on “Happiness is a Dusty Book

  1. mlfables

    Are there any other paper-lovers out there?

    *waves hand* yep, over here. 🙂 If you really want that dusty book effect, visit a local library with a cup of coffee in hand and a feast of books around you.

  2. paradoxes of today, prejudices of tomorrow

    No, you are not alone. I completely agree with the fact that e-books and Kindles are, as a fact, killing bookshops and the tradition of loving a real, solid book instead of burying our noses in useless screens that only serve as a page turner. I love how you described the process of reading through a book, the flick of each page, the feel of paper under your skin. Absolutely loved it. Great blog post. Kudos. I’ll be coming back for more. That, I can assure you.

  3. Mrs. F

    The smell of books and the feel of the paper – its weight and grain. Love love love. And the first time you open it. But I have to confess that I am not so gentle with books as you. Mine are battered and bruised from being shoved in and out of bags and – I hope you are sitting down for this – I bend the corners of pages sometimes if there’s something really good I want to come back to in a really meaty book. Sometimes I write in them too. But in my defence, I definitely don’t do either of those to books on loan and very rarely to my own.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Well, I’ve written in books before, as a student – I thought of them as ‘working’ books, so that somehow made it all right! I still love them, and the scribbles add to their wonderfulness, for me. But I don’t bend pages! *shudder* How is your happiness project coming along?

  4. harlowfallon

    Wonderful post! I do own a Kindle, and I love that I can carry it in my purse and have something to read wherever I am. Yes, I can also carry a paperback in my purse but with a Kindle, it’s like having my whole library with me all the time. As far as “real” books go, my belief is that nothing will ever replace them. I have a favorite used bookstore I frequent, with shelves stuffed with books, and the corners stacked with them. I could spend hours there and come home with armloads. There’s nothing better that that used book smell, is there? Or holding a well-loved book in your hands, the edges of the pages crispy with age. Nothing better. So I guess there’s room in the world for all sorts of books in all sorts of formats. The written word is still the written word, and it’s still being read and loved and remembered. 🙂 That’s what’s important, I think.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks for your thoughts! Yes, you’re right regarding the importance of keeping the written word alive, but I really do hope the ‘convenience’ of e-readers won’t rob us of the tactile beauty of ‘real’ books. As you so eloquently say, there really is nothing better than the scent and feel of books, especially old books. I hate the thoughts of generations of children growing up never knowing any alternative to the cold screen of an e-reader. If we don’t give children the chance to fall in love with actual books, I think we’d be doing them a massive disservice. Thank you very much for taking the time to write. 🙂

  5. Rand Howard

    Late morning and overcast here, but there is no shortage of sunshine in Atlanta, so it is kind of nice for being out and about.

    I love my paper books. I have hauled them with me across the nation and probably would around the world, if I was going that far. But, I love my kindle also. It has become the depository of the things that want to check out,but can’t find at the library. However, recently when the 10th anniversary edition of American Gods was offered for 2.99 for the kindle, I said, uh why? Anniversary editions are something you want to hold in your hand. My hope is that I will be rewarded by finding one at the next library sale. Another good point about ebook vs paper came from a fan of Octavia Butler (whom I have been reading lately), who said, “Octavia Butler would never had approved of having her books put into some digital form because you cannot give away a digital book to someone.”

    A “fairytale cave full of treasures ” is how I feel about bookstores, also, especially used book stores. Old books play a large part in my wip, in fact the whole thing is something of the digital age versus the old gods.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Wow, that’s crazy! An anniversary edition on a Kindle? Makes no sense. I also can’t believe ‘American Gods’ is 10 years old… I love that book! I really liked your quote from Octavia Butler – I’ve been hearing her name everywhere lately, too. And, funnily enough, my WiP features old books, also! Perhaps that’s how it’ll go – a new generation of books sold on e-readers, all of which feature paper books as a key part of their plot. Well, it’s one way of keeping ‘real’ books in people’s minds, I guess!

  6. Bernadett-B

    Oh another “paper- lover”!:) I love old and antique books and in painting I favour paper over digital any day. With e-books what’s lacking is the “character ” of the paper and the book itself. It becomes very impersonal, something that you can just trash anytime. What’s true though is that e-readers are easier to carry around.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Yep – e-readers are, I think, leading to this idea that books are expendable and not something to be valued. That’s sad. The portability thing I can’t argue with. 😀

  7. Jenn

    Definitely a paper lover. The thought of not having my books makes me shudder. When I moved recently I had to sadly part with many of them. Ok i ditched my fave romance collections and kept the good stuff. I’ve always dreamt of having a personal library room .. A lottery dream i think. We have I think twice a year a huge book fest sale in the city over a week. Second hand and ‘old’ books. From the 19th & 20th century. My girlfriend has a huge selection of antique books. I’m now addicted to these wonderful treasures. The last sale I came home with about 30 wonderful books. And yes I have a kindle. However I read them on my ipad mostly. Here tho are reference books I want to access but are too heavy to cart around with me. A couple of novels only for when I travel. At least now I wont weigh a suitcase down with half a dozen books. But the experience of e-readers leaves me cold. Hmm I tend to have a couple of fave reference books on both kindle and print now. I would much rather read a novel in paper form any and every day. The saddest think is seeing the lack of bookshops as they slowly disappear.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Yep, I agree with you. My husband collects antiquarian books, too, and has sparked my interest in them too. There’s nothing better! I guess e-readers are useful for things like reference books, as you say, but I think you’re right regarding the interface with them being ‘cold’. And I’m with you 100% on the lottery dream! I want a library, too!

  8. Kate Curtis

    A bit late with this comment. It almost appears as though I have a life – I can’t believe you’ve made three posts since I last looked!
    Just wanted to add that I’ve bought many books on the basis of their covers – and I’m slightly ashamed to actually admit it. Antique books can be especially beautiful. I also find it fascinating how writing has changed and how what we EXPECT of writing has changed. You mentioned in a previous post you’ve had to remove commas from your WiP. Well, I’d like to give you this sentence from my antique book collection. “The Lost Emerald” by Mrs Emma Marshall, page 1-2 dated 1911. Don’t forget to breathe.
    “There was an old stone cross, to begin with, rough and timeworn, it is true, with the storms of centuries, but standing bravely, through all changes and chances , on the same plinth, and with the same rough carving at the top which had marked it ever since the day when it was raised there to show the place where a queen*, beloved of her husband, had rested on her long, sad journey to a silent grave.”
    Happy writing (and reading). KC

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      *shaking pompoms* Go, Mrs Marshall, Go! I’m such a fan of commas. They are my one real and proper blind spot when it comes to punctuation. If I spoke the way I write, I’d have a respiratory condition!

      By the way, there’s nothing wrong with buying a book on the basis of its cover. I’ve done it myself many a time. You’re definitely right about antique books being beautiful – some I’ve seen have made me want to cry, they’re so perfect.


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