Disclaimer: I have never read a digital book, or owned any sort of device to read them on.
Some people collect playing cards, stamps and rocks. I collect books.
I am definitely one of those people who judges a home owner who doesn’t have shelves of books in their home. My parents and immediate family are all voracious readers, so we’ve always had hundreds of books in our house. I’ll only look on the internet if I know for certain that we don’t have a book that covers what I’m looking for. Over the last twenty-odd years, I have bought myself hundreds of books. They have always been my way to escape the world.
The thing is, when I say I collect books, I mean I have a collection of books that function far beyond the reading of them. I am a bibliophile. I love books, not just because of the doors they open, but because of their smell, their material and their history. I think it’s fascinating that this form has existed in our world for hundreds of years. I love the way books are constructed and I love their individual provenances, and the story within a story that they can tell through annotations and wear. JJ Abrahm’s S basically culminates all of these thoughts and passions into one amazing publication; a dedication to the physical book. I am an old and fusty 20-something that can’t handle modern technology and has a phone that can’t even access the internet. I can’t imagine reading a book in any other way than with a load of paper in my hands.
The Perks of Being a Digital Book
I have realised with reluctance over the years that it’s pretty arduous taking books on long journeys. But unfortunately I regularly make 5 hour-long journeys and try, in that time, to finish a whole book. I also take one with me for the return journey, and usually bring a spare just in case I finish the other two books ahead of schedule (I’m a fast reader). This makes my bag ridiculously heavy, and then I inevitably buy more books at my destination. After a recent trip I came home with a non-fiction, hardback book and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, which is a good 1000 pages long, along with the two books I had taken along for the train journey. It was a lot of weight to carry.
I like to read on my commute to work. If I can read about 100 pages on a bus ride, I’m happy. But it’s difficult carrying around a huge book (I’m looking at you, Ship of Magic) and not getting it – or my shoulders – damaged.
I’ve always thought I’d hate it if someone thought, ‘Hey, Lucy likes books, let’s get her an e-reader!’ But I’m starting to admit that actually, it’s not a bad idea. Then I wouldn’t have to struggle around with heavy bags so much. Also, with developing technology, I could use it in multiple ways – there have been several times I wanted desperately to write on a bus journey, and found it near impossible with the bumpy suspension. But I can’t help but feel a little guilty whenever I think like that.
I think digital books are at their most useful when it comes to people who need help with reading. By all means, digital books are perfect for them. They can interact with the words and make them bigger, make them a different colour, make them suit their needs. It’s a useful feature, but I’ve found a certain guilty pleasure in marking a book with a good old fashioned pencil annotation. It adds to the provenance.
One day, looking after old books is going to me my job. I’ll be checking in on books that are over 300 years old to make them last for a few more centuries. I commend projects like Gutenberg who are digitalising many old books so that other people may access them. But there’s something completely different about holding a real book in your hands. Books are beautiful. There is no denying that. I couldn’t imagine reading a page in any other format that how it is presented in a book, with justified text and large margins. E-readers never look right to me, which is part of the reason I’m put off by them. There are no ‘layers’ to digital books beyond the words on the screen. They lack the story, the history, the provenance. I like the fibres. I like that you can see, in older books, how they made the paper.
Will Digital Books ever replace your bookshelves?
I could say a lot more on this but the short answer is no. Digital books will never replace my physical books, especially as some of them are actually collectible beyond mass-marketed paperbacks.
Instead, I’m going to introduce another form of book into the fray and hopefully you’ll see where I’m coming from.
Recently there has been an influx of popular YouTube channels who have been sponsored by audible.co.uk. The YouTubers offer a code to get a free audio book. I have been tempted several times by this offer but always think about the books I already own rather than books I want to read. If I had audio books I could listen to them, ‘read’ them, when doing household chores or driving. Maybe big, scary books which I really don’t want to read on paper like Clarissa or Ulysses will be much more digestible in an audio format. But much like digital books, they would not replace my bookshelves: they would compliment it.
If I started ‘reading’ audio books I will be able to read when I’m walking, when I’m in the shower, when I’m cooking dinner. That sounds fantastic to me – I would be able to carry on a really great book whilst carrying out the most mundane of tasks. But I would always make sure I had the all-important physical copy before I’d spend money on an audio book. It just wouldn’t be right otherwise.
In that way, digital books will never replace my books on my shelves, but compliment them: they will be there for me to read when travelling and considering my back, but only if I already own the physical copy. There is something about the physical book that I cannot put into words, and I hope that, in my career, I will be able to prove my love to them.