Monday, 26 March 2012

My war with books, or how I have come to love my Kindle

Do you have a favourite book? I'm not talking about the content here, but the actual thing. The cover, the pages, the feel and heft of the thing. My favourite book (the physical thing) happens to also be my favourite book (the words bit). It is a 1952 Collins hardback edition of Pride and Prejudice that belonged to my father. It's a slim volume, just the right size to hold and carry. It is bound in blue cloth, the spine now faded to grey and the cover mottled with water marks and embedded chocolate crumbs (because reading and chocolate go together like Fred and Ginger). The pages are thin but creamily sturdy and the print stands just a little proud of paper - I like to run my fingers down the age-rippled pages and feel the words. Properly stitch-bound, the pages are as secure now as the day the book was made, and fall open easily, allowing me to hold the book comfortably in one hand (the other hand being needed for eating chocolate, obviously).

This is one of many books I purloined from my parents' shelves. I grew up in a house full of books. Novels, picture books, reference books for all the hobbies and distractions my father indulged in instead of writing, cookery books, how-to book, and a gorgeous, glorious collection of Folio Society books that I happily inherited (and continue to add to). However, I don't remember my parents buying books (apart from the Folios). Most of the novels, plays and books of poetry were bought individually by my parents before they were married. Books after marriage, with a mortgage and a family, were a luxury. We got fiction books as presents. The reference books came in as piece-works, paid for bit-by-bit, or as part of special offers from the Readers' Digest. Voracious readers as we were, books were borrowed, not bought.

We were luck enough to have the Lisburn Road Library no more than five minutes from our house. Converted from a large Victorian villa and with a huge Monkey Puzzle tree outside, it was a home-from-home - two floors of books, a whole room of children's books. Long walls just crammed, end-to-end, floor-to-ceiling, with books. I still dream quite regularly that I am in that library, looking for a book. We visited the library probably every other week, and when my mother had read all the books the Northern Ireland Library Service had to offer, she joined the private Linen Hall Library and started working her way through their slightly loftier collections as well. The last time I visited my local library here in SE23, in another fine Victorian building, I kept looking for other rooms, the rooms where the books must be. I never found them

As readers, I don't think my family did much to economically support writers. Buying books was a luxury - and wasteful, because a lifetime is too short to read all the books out there. Who has time to re-read a book? Only the very best, the favourites, were bought. A bad book (by which I mean a badly written book) is a waste of time and paper. If you borrow a book and you don't like it, no harm done. If you buy a book and you don't like it, it sits there on your shelf, mocking you, because it is a Book, and Books are Sacred Things, so you can't just throw it away, much as you'd love to.

I didn't start buying books until I was earning my own money (or living off my husband's) and had bookshelves of my own. Books became cheaper, both relative to my income, and as book price-fixing by publishers was abolished in the 1990s. Over the years, I have acquired many, many books that I have read once and will never read again. I give a lot away to charity, but there are still books under the bed, and double-shelved in the guest room. And I resent it. Some of them are Very Bad Books Indeed. All of them collect dust. I don't want them any more.

Which is why I love my Kindle. I know as a writer I should be concerned about electronic books - about protecting my intellectual property and getting paid for it. But as a reader, my Kindle frees me up to try all sorts of different books. If I don't like it, I delete it. Gone. Poof. If I really love it, I go out and buy the book. I would rather buy an e-book version of a book than borrow the real book from a friend, and I have added e-book versions of my old favourites to my Kindle, so in those ways I have paid the author twice. I have become a much more experimental reader since I got my Kindle - it's like having  the Lisburn Road Library in my pocket.

And best of all, when I am reading Julian Barnes, I can click on the words I don't understand and look them up in the dictionary. I hated Barnes' Booker winning book, but boy did I expand my vocabulary.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent as always Rachael, and I love my kindle, it has kept me semi-sane these last few months I've been bed bound. I'm sure I wouldn't have read the two hundred books I've downloaded if they were paperbacks.