In defence of…books

Vintage Jane Eyre

My beloved Jane

Have you seen the Waterstones spoof of the John Lewis ad? It might just be even sadder than the original. It features a pair of lonely, unloved books that have never seen Christmas. Ah. It worked like a charm too – I’m determined to give a book a home this Christmas. A real one, that is.

One day, we’ll be able to step into the holographic world of Jane Eyre, jump with fright on a misty lane as Rochester falls from his horse, feel the wet moors whipping at our ankles as we flee Thornfield, and weep as we touch Rochester’s wounds at the end of the story. Spoiler. Sorry. Of course, it will come in the form of a device developed by the bods at Amazon and will have been dropped on our lawn by a drone. Maybe it will be even better than in imagining it all for ourselves.

Let me be clear: I have a Kindle. I use my Kindle. I love my Kindle. I was sceptical at first but the magical world where the new Bridget Jones can arrive within 10 seconds persuaded me. And the throwaway culture of the free first chapter sealed the deal. But…there is that fatal but. Every time I download a book, I worry about the poor independent booksellers. Don’t we all? I think of Hay-on-Wye and the tiny twisted streets rammed with booksellers, old and new. I think of my vintage copy of Jane, her pages preserved so lovingly – the mysticism of the hands that touched it before mine, the beating heart of the woman who loved Rochester before me and, one day, the tears that will be shed by my daughter as she reads it for the first time.

It’s the shared experience of real books that I mourn the most. Even now, though my daughter is only 7 months old, she sits on my lap listening to The Gruffalo – her eyes full of excitement and wonder. I remember Miss Schunk (Shunk?) belting out ‘snoooozzzcuuumbers’ in the voice of the Big Friendly Giant and unravelling the words from my own copy as she read aloud. Of course, I could sit with an e-book and do this but where’s the romance in that? They can never offer the mystery of the uncracked spine and the oh-so-alluring cover art. Not quite in the same way. And there is something to be said for the fragility of printed books, the pages so delicate and precious; the physical act of discovering the secrets of the next page; the peeking at the ending. I don’t know why but I’ve never done this with my Kindle. Not once. It makes me such a lazy reader I can’t even be bothered to sneak a look at the ending! Too many clicks of the button whereas turning to the last page is so easy…and so decadent!

Of course, there’s also the fictional library of my future: the room with a view I will sit in when I’m old and ready for the knackers yard. The walls will be lined with the body of work I’ve ploughed my way through in a life of reading and I’ll be proud of my efforts. One e-reader won’t even fill a shelf much less a library with a leather armchair in the corner.

This has all been said before…and by other e-book owners just like me no doubt. Why, when we all know the beauty of real books and real imagination, do we give in to the ease of the e-reader…and those holographic books that are almost certainly on their way?

The good news is that, despite falling sales of printed books, the younger generation may just have understood all this. They may turn out to be the unlikely saviours of the humble book. That’s if a recent Voxburner survey is correct. Apparently, 62% of young adults prefer printed books to e-books. Lovers of irony have to embrace this: the generation growing up in a world where internet has always existed, who can stream movies at unfathomable speeds and who can tweet an entire universe under the desk at school, actually understand the value of these antiquated relics. Perhaps imagination is a novelty in a world where they are inundated with technology. Who knew they were smarter than us after all?

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