Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Piles and piles of books

When I went to university I remember counting the books on my shelves. I had a tiny single room at a hall of residence and the library space amounted to, I think, three small shelves on the wall. I was studying English Lit, Politics and History and I made sure I bought all my listed texts new. Their spines sparkled with promise. Yes, really, that's what I thought. Even "Scottish Politics" by the department head, printed on what looked like bog paper, appeared to me at that time to be a shiny beacon of the future.

Over that year or so I added many paperbacks. Books I read because I wanted to. Books I bought because I thought I should. I have always bought more books than I read, however, which is partly why now - two decades later - I have a dining room table groaning under the weight of columns and columns of books.

We're doing out the front room (again... I won't bore you with the details) which means a temporary migration for the books to the back sitting room. I mention this because it is only when you move books around that you realise just how many you have and what a cumbersome load of stuff they amount to.

I'm not a fan of ebooks. I hate the idea of them, in fact. I fear that if we take away the physical side of writing then novels will become as much of the web has, this blog included, entirely disposable, throwaway and worthless. Writers are already paid a pittance, and now the publishers want to screw them even more by demanding larger than fair slices of royalties from ebook publications.

And yet, books... Lining the walls in neatly organised shelves they look fabulous. (Obviously I'm a fan, just look at the home page). But as people move into smaller and smaller apartments, as we move around more and more trying to keep down jobs and to maximise our worth in this most fragile of economies, you can see why an iPhone or an iPad or even a Kindle is so attractive. An entire library weighing no more than a bag of sugar? Cool.

I've already got over my CD collection. It's gone, in boxes, unloved and gathering dust. Will the books go the same way? I hope not. I really love reading books, turning pages and seeing them on the shelves. I was never good at sport, I was good at reading: these guys are my trophies. But I doubt my grandchildren will feel the same way about them. Indeed, they'll wonder how we survived under the weight of all this paper.

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