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Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Physicality of Books

Welcome to She-Writes members on the Blog Hop. Sorry if you are not from the UK and the TV programmes I mention in this post are a mystery to you.....

I was un-surprised to hear Claire Balding say on My Life in Books on BBC2 that the physical presence of a book really matters to her. She held up an old gold-tooled tome of "The Myths of Greece and Rome" and asked her fellow guest to sniff it, which he duly did.

And in another episode of the programme Giles Coren talked about how he read from his father's edition of "The Great Gatsby" at his funeral and clearly the fact that it was that particular edition was very important to him.

For me the books that matter to me are inseparable from their covers because I pick up and put down that book umpteen times whilst reading it. I have the opportunity each time I handle it for the cover to go into my subconscious mind, and become indelibly associated with the story.

Each time someone mentions "Jane Eyre" I have a very specific edition in mind - the one my grandma gave me which was in a blue leather binding with a red sewn-in silk bookmark. It was a birthday gift and I treasured it. And if you were to say "Wolf Hall" then it's the black version, not the white.

When I go on review sites such as Goodreads I get irritated if I can't find the right edition of the book I want to review. Which probably explains why, now that I have a Kindle, I have mostly ignored it and gone out and bought the real book instead. I am still more attracted by the actual book itself in a shop than the virtual book, even though the latter may be cheaper.

You would think that now I am moving house I would have learnt my lesson and be a grand supporter of the virtual revolution - here are about half the boxes which are packed with my books ready to move house. And I'm afraid there are more boxes upstairs. And some books I can't bear to pack until the last minute, because I might need them for the research I'm doing at the moment. (By the way, the blur at bottom right is the cat running to escape being boxed with everything else.)

For me books are furniture as well as entertainment. They are my chosen wall-ornament, and I enjoy looking at the nice row of colourful spines and interesting typefaces. For me a room is unfurnished unless it has at least one bookcase. Someone told me it was a rather pompous way of displaying your education and ridiculously middle-class. But putting my Kindle on the coffee table just won't do.

And I'm so glad that I was able to give my daughter the hardback of my first novel - and hope in time it will be an heirloom of some curiosity value. In fact people are predicting that first edition hardbacks will be a very good investment in the future when digital books are the norm.

At Christmas I still wrapped books for my sister even though she has an e-reader. You can't unwrap a digital book and it does not have the same concrete presence. There is just something about the physicality of books.

23 comments:

  1. Dear Deborah,

    Love what you write about books being part of the furniture, etc., in your home. I feel the same way.

    My mother lived with me the last nine years of her life, and at one point she said, with great exasperation, "Why don't you get rid of some of these books! You have too many!" It was only one of the many things on which we often disagreed. :)

    Marcia

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  2. I love this post! I also love the feel and smell of a real book - especially that slightly musty smell of older books. When we moved two years ago I had lots of boxes of books; when we move again I'll probably have at least twice that many which is one reason why my husband doesn't want to move.

    My bookcases are across the living room where I can see them when I sit on the couch. I enjoy looking at them - the colors, textures and patterns are interesting. I'm also a big fan of coffee table books - somehow a Kindle on the table just wouldn't be the same.

    I still have no interest in an ebook reader. I will probably be one of the last holdouts and they will have to pry my books from my cold, dead hands.

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  3. I totally agree re: the physicality of a print edition of a book. I've often thought, too, that the mind works differently when it's holding a book, reflecting on the words. E-books belong to a more visual medium. And yet, the gift of an iPad opened me to other ways of perception and reading, not to mention convenience. All of which is to say, maybe it's not a question of either/or as it is of recognizing a new paradigm for what it is. That may have been all the motivation I needed to publish a new, digital edition of my own book.

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  4. Great post! I remember lines from books and can see the page and font in my mind. nothing beats the physical presence of a book.

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  5. Hi! Stopping by as part of the She Writes Hop.

    Love this post!! I wrote something similar to it recently here http://bit.ly/eHcDav. I completely agree with you - books are like furniture, something to have and to keep. I just love standing in front of my bookshelves and looking at my books. For no other purpose than just to admire them. And I so get the specific cover and how it draws you back into the story - it's the memory trigger, the signpost back into the land between the covers.

    Anyway, great blog, glad I found you! You have a new follower in me!

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  6. Great post. I couldn't agree more. Books are friends and family that I like having around the house. Catching a glimpse of a familiar worn cover brings back memories of adventures, laughter and tears.

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  7. Yes, absolutely, the smell of old books - in my most recent blog post I gave that as one of my favourite scents.

    And re: book covers - that's why authors get so upset when their books are badly designed, or given a cover that's more about marketing than content.

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  8. I'm with you on this... Oh how I love books. I just want to look in your boxes not your ebook. To handled a book which had been held, enjoyed and read by others is a joy to share and pass on

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  9. Not much to add to the discussion, but I so agree that a room without books is somehow empty. I once read a lovely quote which said something like - books mark your passage through life ie you remember where you were, what you were doing when you read them. A kind of diary. It was put much more eloquently than that, but of course I've forgotten it! I'm sure there's a place for e-books, but not a beautiful or sentimental one, and they will never replace the real(dare I say?) thing.

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  10. Hello everyone, thanks so much for all your comments. I'm glad I'm not alone! It feels like a whole lot of support to know you all love actual books as much as I do.
    Those of you I don't know yet - I'll be visiting your blogs over the weekend - hope to get to know a bit more about you there.

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  11. I'm stopping by as part of the blogger ball. It's nice to meet you. I love books. Nothing beats holding a book in your hands. I do have a Kindle and I use it everyday, but I also read a print book everyday. Why? I'd miss the feel of a book in my hand if I only read from my Kindle. The up side is that I read more books this way.

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  12. Hi Kelly,
    Wow, you must read a lot! My kindle is mostly used to store reference books I need for my historical fiction. It beats carrying around dictionaries, phrasebooks, history books and all the downloaded material off the internet. It saves my back anyway!

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  13. Also here from She Writes. What a wonderful post! I find myself thinking of the differences between vinyl albums and cd's: liner notes, mostly, but also the sequence of songs is different. Side two? Cd's only have one side! And I can't forget the cut-outs inside the vinyl copies of "Sgt. Pepper". Still have them!

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  14. I love your post! We have a long standing joke in our house that my husband's back problems are related to our multiple moves over the past few years and the need to heave and haul my 40 boxes of books up and down flights of stairs. We've probably bought our last home so he shouldn't need to move me again. We have a garage, which houses about half of my books - still in boxes. We sometimes refer to the garage as the library! Books "make" home, for me. Thanks for your thoughful post.

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  15. Hi Victoria and Dawn, just popping over to your blogs now!

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  16. Greetings from another book lover. I just popped over from the Blogger Ball and your blog entry was such a welcome read. I'm faced with either culling books (so painful), or dickering with the bank and the homeowners association over putting another room on the house so I can keep buying books.

    http://happy_as_kings.typepad.com/happy_as_kings/2005/08/biblioholism.html

    I've ventured into ebooks (their compactness is a virtue at the moment), but it Hurts. ;>

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  17. I have fond memories tied to particular books and book covers. Thanks for calling them to mind! I switch back and forth between my Kindle and "real" books and love that I'm reading now more than ever.

    Found your lovely blog via the SheWrites Blogger Ball! Cheers from Denver, Karen

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  18. Hi Valerie and Karen, good to hear your book memories. Now there's an idea - a whole new room devoted to books - don't tempt me!

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  19. I love my real books as well and have not yet succumbed to e-readers. Have you seen this video "Organizing the Bookcase?" I could totally relate:)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFnuP9niRUg&feature=player_embedded

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  20. Oh Thanks Kim - I'll post this up for others to find!

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  21. The books on the shelf map the literary journey of a person's life. There are books I bought as a child, novels I read as a young adult and the ones I enjoy as a mature person.
    Although I can see the practical uses of an e-reader, for me, nothing will replace a real book. Imagine a world without musty secondhand bookshops, the joy of curling in an armchair with a good book and a cup of chocolate. And you cant take a kindle into the bath can you?

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  22. Nothing will ever replace the memory of my first visit to an old city library. The smell! The vibrant colors of spines lining the shelves! While I do give a nod to technology, the weight of a real book in my hands is an experience I will not be deprived of :)

    I've yet to have the pleasure of owning the first edition of anything other than a textbook, but that suits me fine for now. I have plenty of room on my shelves for those that will come later!

    Great post! It's lovely to meet you.

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  23. I am a lover of books. I really appreciated this article. Rooms seems empty without books -- in book cases or stacked on the coffee table or stacked on the floor -- and e-readers just don't give a room character. Thank you for so beautifully describing the power of books in rooms.

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