Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Joy of Real Books

Many of you who know me will know that I’m a writer. And so by definition (at least, for any half decent writer) I also like to read a lot. But, which is better – real books, or using an e-reader?

Now, I do own an e-reader, and I think it’s great - being able to have a great many books on such a small device. And I think one of the best things about e-readers is the ability to download, legally and for free, lots of out-of-copyright classic works of literature. I’ve already read “The Time Machine” and “Around the World in Eighty Days” on mine, and I’m going to eventually get around to reading “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” and many, many other classics on it. And e-books are also a great way for new authors to get their own works out there to an audience for the first time.

But, as much as I love my e-reader, books on there are just not like real books. Holding an e-reader is not the same as holding a real book in your hands. And, for obvious reasons, they don’t look as good.

For example, the works of Charles Dickens are out of copyright, and so they can easily and freely be acquired for any e-reader. However, back in 2003 there was a part-work I bought that republished most of his works in 32 hardback volumes, and here’s how they look on my shelf:

Now, I think they look really nice on my shelf! They certainly look a lot nicer than a simple list of titles on an e-reader screen. I haven’t actually read any of these books yet, but I do intend to, at some point, eventually, when I have time... And when I do, it will be good to read them as real books in my hands.

My love of real books is not just one of aesthetics. One day I want to pass on my collection of books, hopefully to my children if I have any. Having real books on a shelf can lead to young readers making new discoveries.

Many years ago, when I was about 12, I was looking through the books that my mum had on her shelf. Then this one caught my eye:

I’d heard of Tolkien before, and “The Lord of the Rings”, but I hadn’t heard of “The Hobbit”. I read the blurb inside the book, and it sounded like a story I’d really like. And so I took the book and started reading it, and loved it! It still remains as one of my favourite books.

With all of the publicity that Tolkien’s works have had in recent times due to the film adaptations, I would have come across “The Hobbit” eventually, but if it weren’t for my mum having it on her bookshelf when I went looking there, it would have been a long while before I had discovered it.

In these modern times, I’m sure there will be kids who will one day look through the books that their parents have on their e-readers, but this won’t be quite the same as browsing through books on a shelf. For starters, not all e-readers will show you the covers of books as you look through what titles are on the device. Part of the draw to “The Hobbit” for me was the fact that it had a dragon on the cover! Now, whilst it’s true that you should never judge a book by its cover, it’s still one of the first things that most people will see of a (real) book and which can help to draw them into it. Plus, I feel that discovering a real book this way is more magical then browsing a list of titles on a screen.

Real books also give a sense of age. Here’s my copy of “The Lord of the Rings”:

It was bought second hand, and you can tell that it’s a well read book. I also own a complete set of “The Chronicles of Narnia”:

I’ve owned these for quite some time (there were actually a joint present to me and my brother many, many years ago, although I’ve ended up as sole custodian of them), and they are now showing their age. They’re not in the best condition. And so I decided to buy a newer set, although I ended up buying this one volume edition:

This book looks pristine and new. And I actually feel that it doesn’t look right as a pristine and new book. This is a book that needs to be read, many, many times. It’s not a book to just be looked at. The pages need to show some wear, some discolouring from the brilliant white they show now. It needs to be read, and to show that it’s been read, to show that it’s had a history. And I do intend to read it, and then read it again, and then read it again...

And it will live on my bookshelf, with all the other real books that I have. Then, one day, a small person may look through my bookshelves, and discover this book. They may ask themselves what Narnia is, and want to know more about it. And, look, there’s a lion on the cover! And they’ll see that it’s an old book, one that has been read many times. Then they may take the book to read it themselves, and discover a whole new world...

And I think that is far more magical then anything that you can get from an e-reader.


Miriam Joy said...

We have that Narnia set! Well, all of them except The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe -- I'm not sure why we had a different edition of that, but that was even older and fell apart, so we had to buy another one, which still doesn't match...

We also have two copies of The Silver Chair, one of which matches and one of which doesn't. They've been in the family since long before I was born so they're pretty battered and well-read, too. Most of my books are, as they're all handmedowns or second hand.

I furnish and decorate my room with books. Who needs posters? I have multicoloured shelves!

My Kindle sits there judging me every time I have to reorganise them to fit more in.

Karl S. Green said...

I love a room decorated with books! I'm always thinking about how I can squeeze more bookshelves into my room.

And I'm conflicted with my e-reader. Whilst I will be reading classic books on there, part of me wants to go out a buy a nice real edition of these books as well...