I wrote this column for online magazine Mamamia, and it was published in their Books section. For those who missed it, it is my take on the visceral aspect of the book.
When you curl up in your favourite armchair with a new book, do you open the pages with anticipation or do you press the ‘on’ switch on your Kindle, Kobo or i-pad? As e-book devices become more available and accessible, the merits of the e-book versus the print book have been keenly discussed by readers and booklovers, with passionate debate raging on both sides. Often this has become an over- simplified argument, a contest of the luddites versus the geeks. But there is more to it than this.
I love technology. L.O.V.E, love it. I use technology in my work and at home on a daily basis. I tweet, I am on Facebook and Linked in. I’ve explored Tumblr and I’ve used Glogster and Animoto. I am the mother of teenagers, or screenagers as the social researchers often like to refer to them, and what I don’t already know about technology they teach me. In short, technology and I are pretty good friends.
So yes, I have read the odd e-book or two. I have the Kindle app on my i-pad, and I’ve bought and read about a half dozen e-books on it. By far the best thing about the Kindle app is that it meets my 21st century need for instant gratification. The book I want is in my hand in seconds. In fact, I can have multiple books in hand which is another huge attraction especially when I go on holidays. My Kindle allows me to change the size of the font and the colour of the page. When I‘m reading and want to find out a little more about something, I can look it up on my i-pad without even leaving my chair. Not great for my thighs, but damned convenient at the end of the day.
But here’s the thing. When I hold the e-book in my hand, it doesn’t feel right. Reading for me has always been a very sensual activity, engaging my visual, tactile and olfactory senses. And so far, the e-book is just not doing it for me.
The weight of the e-book is wrong, the feel of it is wrong, and when I lie in bed in the evening with an e-book it is a strange and unfamiliar experience, akin to an unfaithful spouse lying beside their lover. More importantly, the smell is wrong. My e-book doesn’t smell like a book, in fact it doesn’t smell like anything at all. New books have a distinctive crisp, fresh scent whilst older books have a distinctive musty odour enclosing the tantalising secrets of generations past.
The e-book also doesn’t collect visual memories like the pages in my old favourite books. There is a smudge of chocolate in my copy of Five Go Adventuring Again, left there because Enid Blyton made me want to snack on something delicious when the Famous Five ate their slabs of cake and drank lashings of ginger beer. My e-book has no well-thumbed pages or cracked spines to remind me that I loved a book so much I read it again and again, nor are there pages stained with the remnants of my tears such as page 362 when Mr Darcy looks at his future bride and calls her “dearest, loveliest Elizabeth”.
What the e-book lacks, the print book makes up for in spades. It’s not just about the words which lie within; it’s about the physical book itself. Books provide much of my décor and entertaining style. Books of various shapes and colours are an important part of my interior decoration scheme. My bedside table is never without a stack of books – my ‘pile of good intentions”. Books turn my home office into a proper office, a visual symbol of the knowledge held within. And when I entertain, my books are a great conversation starter.
But more than anything, my bookshelves hold the history of my life. Therein sit my favourite books from childhood and the books I received at School Awards Evenings. Alongside the school prizes sits my very first and most treasured Complete Works of Jane Austen. On the next shelf is the collection of various copies of Pride and Prejudice which I have picked up in antique bookshops over the years. Further down are the self-help and women’s health books that I was given when I had breast cancer. But most importantly of all, on the very bottom shelf resides a very old and somewhat damaged copy of News Chronicle Needlework and Crafts which belonged to my great-grandmother, and right beside it sits my treasured Complete Works of Shakespeare bequeathed to me by her son, my recently departed dearest grandfather.
How can an e-book compete with the sensory overload that resides in my bookcase? How can an e-book compete with any book kept lovingly on my bookshelf, its cover alone enough to evoke a memory which entices me to pick it up, hold it and re-live a chapter or favourite section?
My love for reading in any shape or form will always define me, but when push comes to shove my loyalty will always remain with the printed tomes that I treasure and adore.