Sunday, 19 August 2012

Of Books, Bears, Bogeymen and Bibles

Anyone who reads my posts regularly (possibly just my mum) knows I spend I lot of time waffling about e-books. You'll also know that I'm quite the advocate. However something that annoys me are people who think that just because I like e-books I have turned my back on paper and print.

Alright, so I don't often buy printed fiction from bookshops any more, but then I never really did anyway. I always borrowed or bought books second hand or got hand-me-downs from the parents. I still buy (and love to receive) photography and art books and I don't think this will ever change. Yes, there are things you can do with e-books that you can't do with printed but that doesn't make them better, just different. 

This post is a self indulgent look at why I will never totally give up the printed book and which books I can never imagine reading as an e-book. It's also one of the most personal blogs I've ever written. Some people may contend what I have to say here but these are my views and I stand by them. Just like only an e-reader will fit when you have to squeeze 2 weeks of reading material into a Ryan Air luggage allowance, there are also times when only the printed book will do. These are my top three reasons.

1. Books carry memories.
When I was 13 a boy, who would 3 years later become my first boyfriend, gave me Clive Barker's A Thief of Always. I had never read anything like it and I quickly consumed most of Clive Barkers back list, reveling in the mix of bogeymen and sex. God knows what my parents would have thought if they knew what I was reading but to this day I continue to be a huge Barker fan.
The relationship didn't end well, it was never going to really, but I still have that book. Despite it being dog eared and tatty it sits next to my signed edition of Galilee, and I would never consider getting rid of it. It's a little reminder of my teenage self and carries memories that go far beyond the story itself.

Sometimes the memories carried by books are not those of the current owner. I'm currently undertaking research on my hockey club and managed to track down an old minute book to the library at Chetham's in Manchester. When I went to see it my reaction to a mass produced ledger was extraordinary. OK, so technically it isn't a book in the way a novel or a bible is but the principle is the same. That A5 notebook, crammed with history and indecipherable notes, evoked more emotion in me then any word processed document ever could. I bet in 60 years time no one will be sitting in a library crying over our modern digital minutes and agendas.

2. Books can both be, and convey art.
Some books are beautiful in a way that cannot be replicated or digitised, take the Guttenberg Bibles for example. Not only do they represent a technological revolution but they cry out to be touched, scrutinised and poured over. There must be millions of copies, both printed and digital, but non will ever match the originals as objects of beauty. 

This type of classic beauty is often, and sadly, a thing of the past. Yet books continue to be made that are unique, that through either their content or physical form, stand up as works of art in their own right. If you ever doubt this make a visit to the book design library at Manchester Metropolitan University. You won't be disappointed. 

However the thing that I really love about printed books is that even the most mundane novel can be transformed into a thing of beauty when given to someone with the right inspiration. You only have to type book art into google images to see the wealth of creations that have been made from or inspired by books. I'm sure artists will eventually find ways to make art with e-books, there is already plenty of digital art out there. What I don't believe is that it will ever be as beautiful or emotive as work such as the mysterious paper sculptures that have been left by an anonymous artist around Edinburgh. 

3. Some books just have to be, well books.
This last point is easily the most subjective, after all we have no idea what the future of e-books hold. However I am of the opinion that some digital editions can't elect the same emotion and excitement as their print equivalents, purely because their format or content would not transfer successfully. For me this is best illustrated by two books from my childhood.

We all have favourite books as a child, books that stay with us, which we'd buy for our children and grandchildren. My favourites are The Haunted House (Jan Pienkowski) and Trouble for Trumpets. (Peter Dallas-Smith, Illustrations by Peter Cross) While both these books carry fond memories it is more their format and content that means they just wouldn't work in a digital format.

The Haunted House is a delicate pop up book quite unlike the Spot and Ball picture books usually made for children. In fact my dad used to keep this one on a high shelf so being allowed to read it was an event which only made it even more special. It was dark and creepy and fun and it really wouldn't have worked as an e-book, even one with added content and special effects. 

The second is a beautifully book illustrated by Peter Cross (He later made the Harbottle greeting cards) It's very hard to get hold of nowadays but if you do come across a copy at a reasonable price - buy it. The plot is simple; good bear/hamster type animals versus evil bear/hamster type animals. But the pictures are beautiful and intricate, full of quirky little sub plots and incidents. Even better throughout the book there are a couple of dozen hidden faces for you to find, something you don't discover until the end. As a family we spent hours searching through the pages for those hidden faces. I just can't imagine my family huddling round a computer screen in the same way.

I suppose what I'm trying to show with this blog is that while e-books may represent the future of publishing, loving one doesn't necessarily mean you can't love the other. Printed and digital books fulfill different needs for different people and just like the record and the MP3 player can continue to exist in the same space. Yes, in the not to distant future one may be considered to be retro and quaint. But, hey, who doesn't like a bit of retro. 

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