The disappearance of books

This post is a lament about books disappearing from the domestic landscape. This is of course thanks to the onslaught in the marketplace of EBooks, Kindle and other online reading portals. With the advent of Google there is no need for reference books any more. Now we even quote Google as a verb, eg ‘I’ll Google the answer’. Coffee table books and magazines are also less prominent, now we can access the online versions.

I prefer the old fashioned paper version with its hard cover. It tells me so much about the contents before I even open the page. I clock up many hours of the working day in front of a computer at my day job. So holding something in two hands and reading straight from the page suits me fine.

I have a built in wardrobe in my bedroom like most people. Its functional exterior belies what chaos lies within: apart from clothes there is paperwork, folders, assorted cables, CDs, DVDs, receipts and other detritus of suburban life waiting to be sorted. The wardrobe is also currently home to a fast growing stack of books that I have read and need to return to their owners. I keep meaning to transcribe passages into my journal (the bits I find inspiring) before returning them but this is fading from being a reality. With now twelve books in the stack where do I start?

Here are a few gems:

There is music in the courtyard, the untamed noodlings of jazz; light and sprightly, the notes whistle down from the speakers, the melody is purling, it is plashing and rustling through the spindle arms of the naked elm trees. It is hush and it is rhapsody.

Christos Tsiolkas – Barracuda

The pill wasn’t strong enough to knock me out, but it kept me high and happy and somersaulting in and out of air conditioned dreams. Passengers whispered in the seats around me as a disembodied air hostess announced the results of the in-flight promotional raffle: dinner and drinks for two at Treasure Island. Her hushed promise sent me down into a dream where I swam deep in greenish-black water, some torch lit competition with Japanese children diving for a pillowcase of pink pearls. Throughout it all the plane roared bright and white and constant like the sea, though at some strange point – wrapped deep in my royal-blue blanket, dreaming somewhere high over the desert – the engines seemed to shut off and go silent and I found myself floating chest upward in zero gravity while still buckled in my chair, which had somehow drifted loose from the other seats to float freely around the cabin.

Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch

The upside of living in a small house is the necessity to throw rather than keep every now and then. Every time I discard something (hopefully to be recycled in some way) I feel the energy in the house shifting.  It is a ritual cleansing, to allow room for the new. The beauty of borrowing books is that I don’t have to find a permanent place for them. But after a while they feel a part of the furniture, as familiar as a childhood friend.

On my recent trip to the UK and US visiting extended family* I witnessed how people live first hand, what they keep and what they discard. One aunt, upon downsizing, reduced the contents of her bookshelf from two thousand books to one thousand. That is still a lot of books! This particular aunt and her husband, my uncle, are enormously erudite largely thanks to their love of books. They have travelled little outside of the UK in their long lives. Books have informed their place in the world.

I like that books can be a marker of time, getting dusty and faded as they age on their shelves, or behind the wardrobe door in my case (if you are reading this dear lenders I promise you will get them back!). I also like that they remind me of the particular period in my life when I read them.

I am a book lover, a one-at –a –time reader, not someone who can have a few on the go. My level of concentration isn’t so good that I can switch from one genre to the other, especially at the quiet end of the day when I get to read.

I’m always looking for books when I enter someone’s house. I find their presence comforting. I can always start a conversation based on the contents of a bookshelf. They have a certain familiarity to them. I can tell a lot about someone by their book collection. My family in NY have the most eclectic range I have seen. It takes up a whole wall of their apartment. There are such delights ranging from Armistead Maupin, Anita Brookner, Joyce Carol Oates, Katherine V Forrest (‘the grand dame of lesbian literature’) to Isaac Breshnev Singer. I am admittedly a bit suspicious of people who don’t have books in their house.

I was brought up on books, my father being an avid collector of Folio Society books . I souvenired a few upon his passing. They are housed in his glass fronted book case and are there to welcome me home when I walk in my front door.

I like the tactile nature of books, how the cover itself can tell you a little bit about what to expect of the contents. It would be a shame to think that they may be a thing of the past one day. But I fear that is the way we are heading. The act of reading draws very little energy from the universe. I have paid as little as A$2 for a pre-loved book. Library books are free (unless you forget to take them back).

Alas my love of reading and books hasn’t been passed on to my son. Recently he told his dad that when he is wealthy one day he is going to buy him a sports car. My husband then asked what he was going to buy me.

The reply was: a book. And I would be happy with that.

*See previous posts: New York Diary and West Devon