Yes, I’m aware of the digital revolution in reading material. But I never wanted or needed its plastic fragility and be-near-a-charger hassle. I’m comfortable in my biodegradable ways.
Let’s put aside the pros and cons of readability, affordability and rights ownership for a moment. If you’ve ever lived in a cold climate you know the insulating value of a full bookcase on the outer wall of your home. And even if you live in more temperate climes you might recognize its soundproofing value as well. In either case, I like the aesthetics of a home filled with books I’ve already read or plan to read sometime in this lifetime. It just feels right.
And the good news?
While I haven’t seen enough coverage to know if it’s a trend or a hiccup, it appears that the decline in sales of “real” books has reversed itself. Bookstores are surviving and people are buying books again. Whether they read them in place of or in addition to their e-readers is a topic for people with more time on their hands or money in their pockets than I have. [I consider the concurrent resurgence of vinyl records good because of their fuller, unsampled sound quality, I also recognize that’s it’s a fashion among those with money, not a long-term trend.]
After several home sale and moving-generated purges that reduced my rooms full of books to a couple of boxes in storage and a few shelves in my house, I’ve developed a habit of using charity shops and used bookstores as libraries of a sort. I buy books and then donate or re-sell them when I’m done. When a pile of used books is keeping the dust off my floor I don’t have to worry about emails from the library telling me that the book I haven’t started yet is due back tomorrow. I’ve found that my library borrowing generally has a specific purpose, where my shop purchases are more like bringing friends home for a visit. Of course this practice means I’m rarely up-to-date on any best-seller list. Cold Mountain, courtesy of a 50-cent investment in a local charity shop, has moved from a shelf to the floor by the bed. It’s been there for the better part of the past six months.
And there are also those books that I plan to keep around for a while, like good friends. That’s when I make my pilgrimage to the local indie stores selling new books. It’s one of the few ways I can support the authors who support my reading habit. As much as I rail against the electrification of knowledge, I know that authors’ income from digital rights tied to e-readers, recordings and print-on-demand are the future, if not already the present.
But back to the evolution of my own reading habits. Maybe it’s a sign of age that I’m exploring more new writers. Once you’ve read a few of most writers’ works, you begin to recognize their plotting and character development. I understand that they’ve got to make a living, but I’m more interested in exploring the new than in re-visiting the old. The other day I picked up an Ann Tyler book – my first in over a decade – and instantly fell into her familiar rhythms and archetypes I loved years ago. They’re comfortable, but I’ve been there and read that before. Ditto for Roddy Doyle and a number of other excellent writers whose work I’ve read consistently through the years. The experience is like watching a Bond or Bourne film. Even before buy your ticket you know the plot, subplot arcs and personalities. The only thing that distinguishes one from another is the villain’s name and nefarious plot to destroy the world as we know it. What makes the books and films of this genre good or bad depends not on their plot but their execution. It’s why I love art house films that don’t tie up their endings in a neat bow – or a writer whose style I haven’t yet become accustomed to when they surprise me with a plot twist.
But am I pure? Of course not. My particular vice is tied to my travel schedule. I find it’s nice to have a vaguely predictable crime thriller in my bag. It’s hard for me to concentrate on fine literature or thought-provoking commentary between bouts of people- and schedule-watching in an airport. And they’re generally more engaging than most television programs. Am I the only person who checks into a hotel room to find 100+ channels of TV with nothing of interest to watch? [I do realize, however, that I may have missed out on important news when I find the History Channel running programs on flying saucers.] Oh, and if I leave the book on a plane or in a hotel room, it’s not the end of the world.
I’ve also reached a point in life where I’ll put down books in the same way I’ll change a channel or turn off the television. It may not be a bad book or show, but it’s just not my taste.
And what about your taste? Not in literary style, but in reading habits. If you have an e-reader, to you use it exclusively? Or do you still read “real” books? Why – and when – will you choose one format over the other? [Inquiring minds want to know!]
This piece is just one of a number I’ve written about my long-term love affair with books. If you’d like to see more simply click on the “Books” category below. You can also subscribe, so that you’ll see these blogs as they’re written, as opposed to social media’s algorithms. As the saying goes, if you like my writing, tell your friends. If you don’t, tell your enemies.