Monday, 26 March 2012
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.
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.