25 May 2011

Dry Kindling

I'm not what you'd call an early adopter of new technology and gadgets.

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.

Stick it in your e-book, Grandma.
Yeah, I've heard people rave about them. I've heard all the advantages of them, and I can see why they'd be handy. I get all the reasons. I just can't fall in love with the concept, though.

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.

Image ©Maggie Smith on freedigitalphotos.net


  1. This is a wonderful post. And almost exactly how I feel about books, myself. It's part of the reason I studied librarianship for my degree and part of the reason I still love working in publishing.

    You've managed to put all my incoherent emotions into rational words, for which I thank you!

  2. We have a Nook and a Kindle, and I just haven't warmed up to them. The girls like them, and Marty takes it when he goes on trips. The Nook is nice because you can download library books, but I definitely prefer a real book. I find that I tend to skim more when I look at an e-reader, as opposed to really reading.
    Thanks for the library memories. Allie and Megan are on a first name basis with the children's librarian :>)

  3. I will never, ever, give up physical printed books. There is just something warming and calming about curling up with one. It cannot be replaced.

  4. I don't love my Kindle. I don't love paper. I love books. The delivery mechanism is really just a matter of convenience for me.

    Interesting that you see libraries as a source of your affection for tangible books. I always thought that my family's heavy library usage convinced me of the interchangeability of print.

    P.S. You can't read a Kindle in the dark!

  5. Ah, I'd heard that the screen was bright enough to use without lighting. Shows what I know!

    True that paper vs the e-reader is just a question of the medium, not the content - it's entirely an emotional division.

  6. The big plus of the Kindle is that the screen doesn't shine at all - which means that it's easier on the eyes than a monitor. It's not exactly like paper, but it relies on ambient light.