It’s tucked away along a winding side-street, unassuming and indifferent to the revolving chaos of modern life. A quaint little building, forgotten by time. But when you pull open that battered wooden door and step inside, you feel like this is the real world – the steady heart of the storm. Your ears prickle in the sudden silence, as you gaze up at the towering bookcases that seem to reach high into the heavens, full and heavy with a million stories waiting to be retold. Time doesn’t seem to pass here, and that essence of eternity is reflected in the stacks of dusty books hidden in every available nook and cranny. Because no matter how many times these books are thumbed through, devoured, absorbed…their words still possess and enchant. You try to take in your surroundings, but it’s too much, too soon. You’re going to be here for quite some time…
I love books. I love second-hand books even more, for some reason. I don’t know if it’s the slightly time-worn look of them – each bend and crease a symbol of a previous owner’s adoration of it. Or that feeling of being in possession of something that has already been around, and possibly travelled even further than you. It could be the enigma of a second-hand book, or the history. The same thing could be said of second-hand bookshops. Even the smallest buildings seem to be dimensionally transcendental, full to bursting with as much history, mystery, and imagination as one place can conceivably allow. I have spent a great many hours around these places, perusing shelves and hunting the shadows for something unique, something special. The whole point of a second-hand bookstore is that, although there might be particular sections for each genre of book, there is no specific ordering. Just a random collection, always changing, always shuffling, and always full of surprises.
The same cannot be said of e-books. Log in online, type whichever book/genre/author you require, and up pops a list. Of course, some DIY searching will have to be done, but there’s no magic there. You won’t have to move ten books out of the way to get to the bottom of a pile, or reach up high to see what treasures might be lurking on the top shelf of a bookcase. It’s all done for you. There does seem to be a rising trend in e-book sales. Kindles are now a must-have accessory in most households, and many publishers specialise exclusively in publishing in the e-book format. E-books are cheaper than physical books. They take up no space, and you can order them from the comfort of your own home. There’s no need for bookmarks, no need for a bedside lamp, and you can happily take several thousand e-books away on holiday with you with no worries about suitcase space.
Yet I don’t like them. It might be, in part, due to the fact that I suffer from migraines. Just the mere thought of reading for hours on end from a screen is enough to stir a minor headache, but there’s more. I’m a collector. I like owning things. When I gaze over at my collection of books, I feel proud, happy, satisfied. The idea of having something stored away on a kindle, ready to be deleted at any time, just leaves me rather cold. There’s also something terribly impersonal about them. You can’t touch them, feel them, and you certainly don’t have to go to an awful lot of trouble to actually own them. E-books, in short, lack the personal touch for me.
I’m not going to condemn them, however, because I also understand how invaluable they can be. Aside from storage space, cheapness etc, the e-book is a golden opportunity for encouraging people who wouldn’t normally read, to…yes, you guessed it, read! During a course at University, we studied the ‘reluctant reader’, a person who can read, but won’t. Perhaps it’s the daunting prospect of picking up a thick book with 300+ pages; or it could be the size of the wording; or maybe it could even be the idea that books ‘aren’t cool’. E-books can provide an antidote to these issues. With an e-book, you don’t have an intimidatingly heavy book on your lap. You can alter the font-size to whatever suits you, and I understand there is even a dictionary on there, so if you struggle with a word, you can automatically learn its meaning. For younger readers, certain e-books are accompanied by moving pictures and sound-effects; and for the ‘hip’ youth, holding a kindle or iPad won’t make you look like a ‘geek’ (I wear the term geek as a badge of honour, but not everybody shares this view). If it weren’t for the rise of the e-book, I am sure a good percentage of the younger, and I daresay, older, generations wouldn’t be reading half as much.
For me though, I’ll always be drawn to the traditional, paper-and-ink creations that have given people joy for a very long time. There is nothing like wandering through a bookshop (whether it be the mystical Aladdin’s cave of the second-hand kind; or the majestic palace of Waterstone’s), searching for hidden delights lurking on the shelves. To sit by a fireplace with a paperback in one hand and a cup of tea in the other is simply bliss; and where would we be without our trusty bookmarks, eh? No, technology is a fine thing. It has done a lot of good, and continues to do so. But technology changes, evolves, moves on.
Books are forever.