I’m a fan of the British Library. I love the sense of being surrounded by books of all ages of all kinds of all levels. I love the general hubbub of study which is itself very conducive to study. But above all, i think it is just the sheer fact of books that I love.

Which is why, to my mind, it seems like a betrayal to have a little display next to the Reading Room I use, exhibiting a few electronic books that are now available: e.g. the Kindle or the Sony Reader. I can see all the arguments in their favour. I could perhaps even be mildly persuasive in using them on other people.

But in the end, I can’t accept them. They’re just wrong. For all kinds of reasons.

  • I love the smell of books – there’s something very exciting about the smell of a brand new book, which gives a real sense of expectation and anticipation (akin to the sensation of hearing an Oboe play an ‘A’ at the start of a concert, causing the cacophony of the players’ ostentatious riffs to fall into line).
  • I love the feel of books – it is a visceral and irrational thing. I like being able to hold them in my hands; I like the sensation of turning the pages (a virtual page turn on a screen simply isn’t the same).
  • WARNING: not everyone will agree with this point: I love the fact that I can mark, abuse and deface my books (which is one reason i don’t like to borrow but have to buy – that’s the result of being a spoilt idolatrous materialist, I know). Purists will hate this, but I LIKE to dog-ear pages, to underline bits i like or don’t like, to write reactions in the margins. I like my books both to be read and to look read. Having written in them, I thus have an easy way of finding the bits I want to find again – I can sort of visualise where they are (in a hemi-semi-photographic way). If there’s an argument going on in the book, I might use the margin to number or split the points. Very useful and instantly findable. Now I know you can add notes and lines and highlights and all kinds of other gizmodified markings to texts on electronic readers etc. But it’s just not the same. OK?
  • It’s great to lend books – just because I don’t like to borrow other peoples’ books, doesn’t mean to say i’m stingy with mine. Far from it – it’s just great to be able to suggest and lend. Now, you can’t do that easily with an electronic book.

Now please understand – this is not me at last revealing the colours of the true Luddite. I’m one who gleefully embraces and exposes the inner geek and all things Mac. It’s just that books are different. And my final point is, to my mind, the clincher:

  • Books don’t run out; they won’t go blank; they won’t need replacement screens or contract a virus or jumble all the words up. And you can lend books to people who don’t have electronic gizmos.

You see, there were days, when we lived in Uganda, when there would be no power, no water, or no phone. And sometimes, all 3 would be down atthe same time. Sometimes, the power would be off for longer than a computer battery lasts for and then back on for too short a time to charge it up again (it played havoc with our freezer). Now, don’t get me wrong, because i’m not complaining. Well not that much. But the saving grace for those dark evenings was the tried and tested combo of BOOK and CANDLE. Fabulous.


PS – love this cartoon – sums everything up really. Haven’t been able to track it’s creator down to give credit where it’s due – anyone out there know?

what books are for

My Ko-fi button

Will you support my work? You can simply BUY me a COFFEE!

Share this...

You might also like...

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Dave Roberts

    Totally agree, mark… I also like the feel of a book – it has a tactile warmth that electronic devices cant give…

  2. Melinda

    Great post. I totally agree.

  3. Rebekah Dickinson

    I linked to this article on Fb and got some enthusiastic responses to it including my old French teacher who it turns out you met in Hungary! Simon Marshall.And also a friend who worked in Uganda during the past summer and also read books during power cuts. Good stuff as always.

  4. Ross

    I agree 99.9% – the only thing I can think of to say against books is sometimes having to give them away when you don’t have any space left on your shelves (but I guess it is better to have love and lost than never to have loved at all…), and the dreaded mildew if they’ve been stored somewhere damp (but I guess a Sony Reader wouldn’t do too well in a damp garage either!).

  5. Ben Carswell

    As someone whos many (75, I think!) boxes of books are stored away in a shed in the UK (it was too expensive to ship them to the UK), I really appreciated this post. Books are expensive in this part of the world, but they still are a pleasure, a treat & a delight. I’m really with you on the marking/defacing of one’s own books & the fact that you just can’t do that (or shouldn’t do that!) when you’ve borrowed a book. If someone offers to lend me a book, I generally weigh up if it’s worth buying myself, rather than borrowing it & not reading it.

    I’m with you on lending books, however, have lost many good books in the process, not because I don’t know where they are, but because despite asking (sometimes repeatedly), the borrower has not returned the book. It’s a good lesson for me in not being too idolatrous or materialistic, but still frustrates me too! (particularly when they’re marked) Any suggestions on avoidance of this problem?

  6. markmeynell

    well, I’m really loathe to admit this for fear of the abuse I’ll get – but because I found i was losing track of so many books that I’d leant out, i now keep a little database on my computer – geeky i know, but there you go…

  7. wkshank

    TOTALLY with you on this one! Have you ever noticed how a wall of books WATCHES you, saying “sit yourself down and READ!” Kindle can’t do that. She gets buried under newspapers or in the bottom of a purse.

    One of my favorite experiences with an old book is to find notes in the back that I wrote waaay back in university days. These are traces of my very first experience with the classics. Magical!

Please leave a comment...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.