CD players, DVD players, MP3 players, smartphones…whatever the gadget, I get one (what seems like) years after everyone's started talking about them, and usually right before something newer, faster and sleeker comes onto the market to replace it. I was reluctant to join Facebook, then got addicted; then I was reluctant to join Twitter, and got addicted to that too.
It's not that I'm a Luddite. I like whizzy, shiny new things. Once I come round to something, I usually embrace it. OK, the mini-disc was a mistake, but generally speaking, I grow to love the new things. I love the internet. I'm devoted to my smartphone, which is one of my favourite toys, and years after the rest of the developed world, am an enthusiastic downloader of music.
I get there, eventually. I'm not afraid. Just a bit slow.
There's one bit of kit I'm not sure I'll ever grow to love, though, and that's e-readers, such as the massively popular Kindle.
I have what I can only describe as an emotional connection to books. I have done since I first started to learn to read, at the age of 3 or so. Story time was always special.
One of the abiding memories of my childhood is when – mostly to get us out of my mother's hair for a precious few hours – my dad piled my siblings and me into the station wagon every Saturday to go to the public library. He carried a empty bag so large that it would leave Santa envious, and we'd duly fill it with storybooks.
I remember those trips with all my senses and many (always positive) emotions. The slightly musty scent of the old building that housed the library, and the creak of its stairs. The feel of the books in my hands and the paper between my fingers. The anticipation when I cracked open a book I'd pulled off the shelf and saw the words and pictures within, and the thrill when I made the decision and a book went into the sack. The warm fondness for books re-read constantly, and the excitement of the books I was going to read for the first time. The delighted greetings of the librarians, who knew us well and marvelled at our voracious appetite for stories. I can even recall the layout of the rooms. I felt like I had a whole world at my feet when we walked into the library.
Another fond memory from my childhood is the book order. I can't remember how often, but in elementary school we were given the opportunity to put in a mail order for books. A few weeks later, to my immense excitement, a fresh stack of paperbacks JUST FOR ME would arrive on my desk.
This connection to books, tied up in emotions and senses, has stayed with me into adulthood. I've never thrown away or given away a book. I'm reluctant to lend books, and turn down offers to borrow someone else's. I don't like being given books as gifts – not because I'm an ingrate, but because the whole process of choosing my next read is so enjoyable. I still feel the same thrill in a bookshop or when a parcel from Amazon lands on my doorstep as I felt as a child at the library or when a book order arrived at my school desk.
I love picking up a book from my ‘to read’ pile and feeling its heft, the embossed cover, the pages. The smell of them, whether that smell is fresh print or the mustiness of a secondhand book. Flipping through the preliminary pages, running my thumb against the pages across the side of the book. It's all done with the same appetite and anticipation that I'd feel sitting down to a great meal.
I'm going to the Hay Festival this coming weekend and one of the greatest delights of the festival is wandering through the town's many dusty, piled-high bookshops. The rush of anticipation and the rush on my senses are the same as they were in the childhood experiences that made me fall in love in the first place.
I just can't imagine feeling the same about a computer in my hand,as much as I love computers. Sure, a Kindle can hold a gazillion titles, and it weighs less than a book, and you can read it in the dark, yadah yadah yadah. I can see that. Maybe I'm weird for feeling such a sensory and emotional pull towards books. Maybe my middle age is making me old fashioned; maybe I'm just an old fart. But I may never get around to adopting this latest bit of kit. Anyway it would look lonely on my bookshelf.
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