A bibliophile’s affair
“Well,” my sister said, “you of all people, want a Kindle?”
Of course she had her reasons to be some bemused at my turn around. I have been a bibliophile since I could remember, and dreamt of having a library bigger than in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”, with window seats, a ladder on a rail and a roaring fireplace. So now here I am with four-fifths of my book collection ready to be delivered to Oxfam, and a brand spanking new Kindle. What had happened?
1. Library Books
My earliest recollections of books was being in the local library clutching my four precious library tickets, ransacking the A-F spinning rack of books in the children’s section.
Our mother encouraged us to read but book-buying wasn’t financially sensible when you were only likely to read the thing once. We did have some books at home but whether they were my sisters’ or hand-me-downs from elsewhere, I don’t know. I don’t ever remember buying them or seeing them in anything other than a slightly dog-earred condition. They also seemed to comprise wholly of 1970s Enid Blyton’s, Ladybird fairytales and Mandy annuals.
2. Book Tokens
I moved school in P6 to a new school and on my first birthday there received some book tokens from a friend. My mother was forced to take me to a bookshop to spend them and this was the first time, barring stationery shops like John Menzies and Woolworths, that I had been in an actual bookshop. I couldn’t comprehend that I was allowed to choose any of the books, and take them home, forever! Everything was so strange and there were no plastic covers on the books. Instead they were shiny, pristine, uncracked glossy things.
Of course the novelty wore off but I soon found that being smart and winning school prizes meant more book tokens and visits to the bookshops and on hindsight that may have been a huge motivation to my hard work.
3. Bookshelf pride
I got quite into fantasy in my teens and one thing fantasy is good for, is coordinating your bookcase. All of those trilogies with their matching covers and heights made me quite gleeful and as for the sheer bulk of them, I considered it a sign of my superior reading skills. I could read a two-inch thick Tad Williams without leaving a single crease in the spine. The only mark I left in books was the label denoting what prize I had won.
4. Second-hand bookshops
I believe it was in university, in Edinburgh along the Grassmarket, that I first discovered second-hand bookshops. They have these lovely ones with higglety-piggelty piles of books, wizened bearded owners and arty foreign students working there part-time. Suddenly used books weren’t just trashy romances in a charity shop, but something quite fascinating. Not to mention cheap. Of course used books are already dog-earred, annotated by previous owners and yellowing through and through so my pedantic reverence for books was forced to loosen its perfectionist hold.
5. Living Abroad
Living in Japan gave me a very limited access to books. We would bookswap between friends and lament what rubbish tastes the previous occupant of our apartments had been. There was also a limited selection in larger bookshops or on Amazon Japan. However by the end of my stint in Japan I had two boxes of essential clothes, electronic equipment and memorabilia to ship home and my bookshelf was simply non-essential.
Add to that three months in Vietnam and an excellent system they have in backpacking areas for part-exchange at second-hand bookshops, and my hoarding mentality just went out the window.
I came home to four boxes and two bookcases of books and immediately set about separating them. A lot of books I don’t even recall reading. Some I loved at that point of my life but now make me cringe somewhat (in chronological order: ballet books, talking animal books, romantic fantasy, absolutely anything Asian). Of course those that still hold fond memories for me are being kept: Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” and its insane narrator; Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonsinger” when I felt that NO-ONE understood me; and Tanizaki’s “The Key” for sheer confused voyeurism amongst others.
So, to the present! My Kindle arrived this morning and I’ve already read a novel on it. It feels a little strange to hold but no eye-strain or other obvious annoyances. The only problem I have with it, is I feel the need to fill it up with books. Much like getting a new phone or music player and wanting to fill it with numbers or tunes, I am defeated by having only downloaded eight books so far. There is an impressive number of classics available for free (of which I’d love to avail myself except I’ve already read most of the ones I can think of during English Literature), but the modern novels are surprisingly expensive, sometimes more so than their paper counterparts. Having said that, I probably would only buy a maximum of two or three full priced books a month (the rest being second-hand or borrowed from friends or the library) so it’s not that insane an expense. And I bought it more for the convenience than the cost-effectiveness. Gary Gibson has listed some of the other problems with the ebook age over on his blog.
I’ve not given up on real books yet, but I hope that by donating the ones I will not read again, some else can gain a little enjoyment out of them. I don’t think I will be interested in buying hardback, first editions, special limited editions any more, but I will still pop into my favourite bookshop and dream of the day I’ve read all of those books. For one, I’ve been rereading Anne Fadiman’s “Ex Libris” before bed and it is a book that should not be nature, be made into an ebook. And it is something worth keeping because I know I will pick up time and time again.