Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The Power of The Paper Page

Merry meet one and all, particularly if this is your first visit to my blog.  I hope you are enjoying the first signs of spring now that Imbolc has passed; of course if you are in the southern hemisphere you are getting ready for the cold dark days of winter so your natural beauty will be quite different yet equally beautiful.

I wanted to write today about the power of books and their place in the 21st century.  Do they even have a place, or will we be reading our literature on electronic devices?  I am a self-confessed book addict, and I find comfort in having shelves of books around me, but recently I have seen a usefulness in the concept of gadgets such as the Kindle or the Nook.

I have always loved reading.  As a child I can remember getting frustrated waiting for adults to be ready to read to me; I couldn't wait to go to school so I could learn to read for myself!  I'd always be able to enter a new world and become a princess or a witch, travel to far-off lands and have adventures on different planets, and leave the real world behind for a little while.  To be honest, once I'd learnt to read I kind of lost interest in school, and it became the chore that it is for most kids, but I still remember the excitement of being able to read for myself.

My parents enrolled my brothers and I at the local village library, and we would go down there on a saturday morning to return the books we'd borrowed and pick three more.  I was a ferocious reader and would spend every spare minute with my nose in a book.  As a child I favoured science fiction and fantasy, with a little age-appropriate horror thrown in; as a teenager I moved on to teen literature, even though much of it was American and I didn't always get the references.  I remember trying some pretty heavy stuff as I got older; Ursula LeGuin, Anne McCaffrey, Carl Sagan.  Some of it went over my head - I remember giving up on Anne McCaffrey because I wanted to read about dragons not sex - but it was a good way of escaping from the real world.

It was at the age of about 15 that a friend introduced me to the world of Terry Pratchett.  This was a world of witches and wizards, but with a huge sense of humour.  The first book I was told to read was "Wyrd Sisters" because I was struggling with Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and the book took that play as it's inspiration.  I read it in two evenings flat, and got grounded along the way for laughing uncontrollably while my parents were trying to watch the news; I got Dad to read it and he had to unground me because he did the same thing!  To this day I have never reached the end of "Macbeth" and I ended up writing my GSCE essay analysis of the plot hoping and praying that Mr Pratchett had roughly come to the same plot conclusions.*

I left school, started university, and started reading the kind of books I thought made me look cool and slightly gothic.  Classics such as "Dracula" and "War Of The Worlds" were eagerly consumed and remain favourites, along with "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" and "I Am Legend".

Fast forward twenty years and I had bookcases full of old, dear friends.  I had all the Discworld books in their correct order, of course, but the rest of my books were in no particular order, except all the books by a particular author were kept together, and my witchy books were on their own shelves.  Then we found out we were being moved to the USA and suddenly my husband and I were faced with a terrible dilemma; with only a limited amount of space for shipping, we'd have to leave some books behind!  We each had to cull our collection quite ruthlessly and decide which books to take and which ones to put into storage for when we returned.  We both found it quite hard.

It was at this point that I started to see the point of an ereader such as a Kindle.

Now before you scream in horror and curse me for being a traitor to the cause, I would like to explain myself.  Firstly, if space is a premium then an electronic library surely is a must?  If all my books had been on a kindle then I could have carried my library in my handbag on the flight, and none of them would have been left behind.  I can also see the advantage of having text books in digital form; no more back-brakingly heavy rucksacks full of biology books and history books and French books and German books, and so on and so forth.  I can't believe we all carried these books around day in, day out!  Of course, if I buy books out here I have to consider that I may have to leave some behind if there isn't the shipping space when we get sent home, but if I get digital copies this isn't an issue.  Can you see where I'm coming from?

Having said all that, in my heart I can't bear to be without bookshops.  My favourite ones are the slightly vintage looking shops.  A good bookshop should have a wide selection, plenty of space to stop and read the first few pages to see if that particular book grabs you, and a sense of timelessness.  I have no time for ultra modern bookshops with all their minimalist shelving; I like a bookshop to be a safe haven from the modern world outside.  If it's independent, all the better.  One of my all-time favourite bookshops was Thomas Thorp's at the top of Guildford High Street.  Sadly it's no longer there, but I used to love walking through the ancient stone archway into the wonderfully old building that had modern books on the ground floor - sometimes crammed into cubby holes with tiny doors in them - while on the first floor, up a wide staircase, you had non-fiction, used and antiquarian books.  The smell was heavenly! I remember seeing a beautiful antique glass cabinet filled with a collection of Victorian Dickens novels; another time they had a couple of ancient bibles, all illuminated lettering and ancient leather.

Florida doesn't do bookshops like Britain does.  Sure, I have Barnes & Noble and the dubiously-titled Books-a-Million, but they just can't compare to entering the comfort of an old building filled with wonders waiting to be discovered.  Don't get me wrong, while I like indie shops I will take a Waterstones for their size and stock alone, but again I prefer the older style stores rather than the slightly unsettling modern versions I sometimes stumbled into, but I've been lucky enough to live near towns that have had plenty of history and I can usually find a bookshop in the older parts of town.

So the question remains; to buy a kindle or not?  My practical side says buy one for space saving purposes, then my heart whispers "you can always buy the proper paper versions when you get home again", and I suspect that may be the solution.

Blessed be )0(

*Please note I in no way condone that behaviour and do not advise such assumptions when writing incredibly important essays.**

**I'm referencing Discworld; of course there is a footnote!