The beginning of the decade saw an advance of electronic devices. This should surprise no one, every decade is witness to a leap forward in electronic and technological pursuits. However, this decade saw a new spin on an old theme. The reinvention of the old book. When eBooks and the iPad came onto the market many people were making reference to an end of an era.
Would the new technology mean an end to the humble paper book? Paper book doom-dayers were threatening that our next generation, ipad in hand and earplug in ear, would not know what a library looked like, nor recognise the satisfactory thud of a heavy book closing at the end of a chapter, nor the seductive pleasure of a whiff of an old and much loved paperback being reopened for the thousandth time.
Why the slide in eBooks sales? Many people are blaming the electronic devices themselves. We read differently on a screen, we need to concentrate more, it hurts our eyes, we can’t sleep after reading in bed, we are forever distracted by the device’s handy ability to multitask.
Rather than blame our fresh, sleek and new love, the e book; I'd rather see it as we have remembered our first, faithful love, the paper book. Yes, it may not remind us when to take the dog to the vet for a check-up, or be able to define a word for us in a second, or fit snugly in our handbag. But our relationship with our old love runs far deeper than mere accessibility and functionality.
For those of us in love with them, we each have our own romance when it comes to paper books. Some lovingly bend a page back as a bookmark. Others lightly touch the pages, fearful that one crease will change the books meaning forever. We store them on our bookshelves as a reminder of the journey we took together, or we generously give them to friends, desperately hoping they delight in the books company as much as we did.
I have a ritual that goes back to my childhood. Once I finish a book, it is only then that I will gently peel the price tag off its cover. I don't know why I started doing this and I don't know why I kept doing it. But this act marks the end of my time with this book - like a goodbye hug, until we meet again.
And then there is the sensory gratification. Many lovers of paper books mention this and I cannot press the point enough. Books smell right. A new book has that fresh yet grounded trace. Old books have an earthier spice, which we inhale with every page we turn. Smell evokes memories, and while we are enjoying the rhythm of the words on the page, we are also letting the memory of all the past journeys we have taken with books flow through us.
There is also the touch of the paper. Quickly flicking the pages with our fingers, slowly turning the pages to reveal the plot, running our hands over the cover when we close a book, mind digesting the words as hands are contemplating the feel.
I may be getting romantic, but it is a romance! And one I don’t care to give up anytime soon. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t fear technology*, but it has a place. And in my heart, my bookshelf and comfy chair in the office there will also be a place for a good book, a good paper book.
*I admit it, I wrote this blog on my iPhone. Walking to the train after work I was very much looking forward to opening my new love “Parade’s End” on the journey home, but couldn’t, as there was no seats on the train and this book is far too big to hold one handed while clutching a cold rocking handrail and trying to not be pushed against a strangers hot sweaty shirt. Instead of reading, I grabbed my iphone, and wrote this blog. See, technology has its benefits.
And all of you who would like to point out that I could have easily held a kindle an inch from that sweaty back, well – I’m not interested!
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