Round the Cape with Ishmael, in a one man tent

FullSizeRenderIn the end Chuck D had the last word.

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’.

Sales of physical books are back on the rise. According to Waterstones, demand for the e-reader has disappeared.

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.

FullSizeRenderThe two paperbacks above are each an artefact – my reading, marking, spine-breaking and scratching of both linked to a certain time and place.

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?

_____

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