When I was a youngster, going to the library was practically the highlight of the week. There was something so exciting for me about the colossal stacks of books stretching around the room like a labyrinth of knowledge and adventure. The possibilities were endless and I would rush around with glee, collecting books that I would later devour with relish. As I got older, libraries and bookshops would retain their appeal, offering more than just excitement and anticipation, but a certain, inexplicable comfort. To this day, I enter a room filled with books and feel warmth and promise. For the non-bookworms amongst us, this may seem bizarre, yet i’m convinced that many share this feeling. For me, the book, while simply a collection of printed pages, glued together, carries special meaning, bordering on the spiritual for my favourites. And it is for this reason that the prevalence of the Kindle has disturbed me for a while.
On the surface, the Kindle is a brilliant invention and anything that encourages reading is great news. It’s practical, enabling readers to download potentially hundreds of books to take with them on their travels, often at a lower price, and it’s instant meaning no annoying waits for the next instalment in a gripping series. The Kindle also gives budding authors more chance of developing a readership through promotions and free, or cut-price, versions of their novels. I’ve nothing against film and music downloads and the arguments in favour are strong: so why do I still not have one?
The only answer I’ve ever really found is that, I just love books! I love the physical feeling of them in my hands; I love the musty, inviting smell of an old book and the atmosphere it creates around the story; I love having a tangible object with which to associate my favourite novels; I love the artwork covering the book and the way they effortlessly decorate a room… I don’t just love the reading but I love the book itself.
Giving someone a Kindle book as a gift would have the sentimentality of an iTunes voucher. And you can’t very well lend someone a Kindle book either. Kindle books can’t be passed down through the generations and they will never be picked up by chance. They won’t develop character in the manner of an old tome decorating a living room and thus, they will lack the staying power of an actual book which could remain on its bookshelf for generations. They can’t be picked up, flicked through or dipped into in the same way. They can’t be donated to charity shops or swapped at random in a youth hostel (Memoirs of a Geisha, one of my favourite books of all time was given to me in exchange for the Wind in the Willows in a Buenos Aires youth hostel and will always remind me of that trip). And if the Kindle one day takes over in the way of music downloads, libraries and bookshops – already in peril – will become a thing of the past.
If I picture myself as a child, much of the magic of reading was linked to these labyrinths of books; I remember the covers and how they would draw me in, and stumbling upon books by accident because they were sat alongside my favourite authors on the bookshelf. Had a Kindle been placed before me, I’m not sure it would have produced the same reaction. We live in a digital world and sentimentality is a namby-pamby notion that is weak in the face of robust practicality. Yet how many of us would prefer a letter or a postcard to a Facebook message or tweet? How many of us would prefer a book with a personal message to an Amazon voucher?
The Kindle is rising – sentimental bookworms, rebel!