Today is World Book Day. I am fortunate to have parents who brought me up in a house full of books, who instilled in me a love of reading and introduced me to the stories that shaped my life. A book is the closest thing I know to a Tardis; a simple object that can go unnoticed by so many, which contains entire worlds, transports the reader through time and space, enables them to experience previously unimagined lives and places.
I fulfilled an ambition when I created a library in my home last year. This is where I write, surrounded by my books, cocooned and comforted by their presence.
“In a good book room you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.” (Mark Twain)
Libraries and book shops are my oasis in the stressful battlefields of town centres, places of peace and security away from the busy shoppers who jostle and intimidate. Buying a book that I have not yet read excites me as I contemplate the possibilities that it offers. A book is an undemanding friend, there when desired but willing to wait until the reader is ready to offer the time it deserves.
“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.” (Ursula K. Le Guin)
All of my books are of the old fashioned kind; I do not own an eReader. When the Kindle started to gain in popularity a few of the ladies in my book group purchased one; it just didn’t appeal to me.
I heard tales of them inexplicably freezing on a page, never to come back to life; or frying in the sun whilst on holiday. I even read of one reader whose electronic copy of a book vanished overnight when a dispute over a seller’s right to provide the work ended with all those sold being remotely removed from the devices that had received the download. I had never envisaged these problems; my concern had been how I could lend this type of book to a friend.
I like physical books. I like to hold them, carry them around, leave them on tables inviting me to dip in. I feel an affinity with books that I cannot explain but is akin to love. When I sit in my library at home I feel at peace.
There are times, however, when I question my decision not to purchase an electronic device. These times are increasing in regularity as I get to know, on line, authors who have poured their heart and soul into a work of fiction that will not be physically printed. I could download the fruits of their labours at very little cost, sometimes even for free.
So why do I not just go out and buy myself an eReader, even if I only use it for works that are not available in any other way?
Just before Christmas I offered to be a beta reader for an aspiring author that I knew only via Twitter. His novel was described as ‘ideal for anyone who enjoys Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones!.’ This sounded like good reading for the Christmas period, and I enjoy reviewing books so looked forward to providing feedback. I received my download and sat myself down, ready and willing to immerse myself in his world. I discovered that my reading habits do not suit the electronic medium.
The story was compelling, full of characters that I wished to get to know. My problem was that, as I progressed, I could not see how far I had read, how far I still had to go. I could not nurse the book lovingly as I paused to consider the plot, or idly flick through the pages as I answered a query when disturbed. I realised that this was how I enjoyed reading, that I engaged with the physical form of my reading matter. Sure, I could check electronic numbers, bookmark, even make notes as I went along, but it wasn’t the same. Reading on a screen was computer time, not my means of escape to another world.
I failed as a beta reader, which is a useful lesson for me to learn. It is unfortunate that, in acquiring this knowledge, I let the writer down. I know that he found other beta readers, but I felt bad for making an offer that I could not fulfil.
Yesterday evening I was excited to read that he has completed his work and today, World Book Day, he becomes a published author. You can buy his book here Salvation eBook: AMC: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store, go check it out. I hope that many people choose to download his book and enjoy what he has created.
He is not the first author that I have taken an interest in only to find that I cannot read the results of their labours in the form of my choosing. One did offer paperback copies to order but at a price that I was unwilling to pay, and therin lies the rub. Physical books cost so much more to produce and distribute. They require a significant volume of sales if they are to be economically viable.
If ebooks encourage others to read more then, in my view, they are a good thing. I can see the attraction of being able to carry a library of books around in such a small device, particularly when travelling. I realise that I tested my ability to read a book on a screen using a computer, albeit a portable one that fits in my handbag, rather than a dedicated reader. Nevertheless, for me, I desire a book made of paper.
On World Book Day let us enjoy and celebrate books, in whatever form we choose to read them. I will be finding time for Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Year of the Flood’. What will you be reading?
Poem by Bo Burnham