For the past decade we’ve read of the decline of print and the rise of the e-book. Bookshops would close, paper was dead, the Kindle was king.
It turns out that was wrong. Or, as Public Enemy had it, ‘don’t believe the hype’.
It seems we’ve entered a brave new world of the post-book book. All those over excited tech predictions appear to have been just that.
After being gifted a Kindle three years ago I assumed I’d grow to love it. I bought e-books, read them, used the clunky notetaking system, even synced it with my iPad so I could wistfully view the covers in colour.
But I never felt it a replacement for a book, piles of which continuing to grow – mysteriously – around our apartment.
It wasn’t just a lifelong habit of reading on the printed page, or of scribbling notes in the margins. Nor was it the feeling of satisfaction in re-reading sections of a book to catch up, or dip back in.
It wasn’t even the physical book itself.
What kept me returning to print was the feeling of a book as an artefact, an item with a history outside of its pages, an object linked to a time or a place or a state of mind.
My old IR£1 copy of The Great Gatsby has margin notes for an all-but-forgotten American literature course, taken at university almost 20 years ago.
Each time I re-read it (and it’s the book I return to more often than almost any other) I wonder exactly why 18-year-old me bothered to notate that specific passage…
But I refuse to replace it.
My Moby Dick contains marks of a different order, elemental ones that Melville may have favoured more than dry academic scribblings.
Many of the pages are curled and stained by water, after the book somehow spent a wet night outdoors during a camping trip I took to the Adirondacks.
I rounded the Cape of Good Hope with Ishmael as rain and wind blew, in a one-man tent.
My memories of Midnight’s Children are drier, dating back to a beach on the shores of Lake Tahoe, where I spent afternoons of a 90s’ summer recovering from working 12 hour standing shifts at a casino the previous night.
My sun-baked copy may still have sand between the pages. Blame the heat or the slots but, alas, I never finished it. (As with books, no reader is perfect.)
Rushdie’s novel, like my Fitzgerald and Melville, lies fading on a bookshelf. It will be picked up, but rarely. Instead it will remain with the others, shelved, untouched and gathering dust.
Not read, but not replaced by an e-version either. After all, how could they be?