Celebrating books: covers, pages, spines and ink

I promise you I am not a dinosaur. The evidence might appear to be to the contrary given that I have declared my love for the days of chalk and blackboards and now here I am championing the age of print. However, to reiterate I am not a dinosaur. I don’t have an ereader as such although I do have relevant apps for tablets and phones, but I still tend towards buying books either from…horror shock book shops or yes, I admit, the internet. So there is a part of me that gives a secret cheer with the independent booksellers who, when asked if they wanted to be able to s20131109-165701.jpgell kindles in by their stores whilst receiving a cut said, thanks but no thanks (http://www.siliconbeat.com/2013/11/08/new-amazon-offer-selling-kindles-at-indie-bookstores/). I definitely think that ereaders fulfil a function and I find it quite handy to read research articles as PDFs on a tablet, allowing you to whizz to the relevant quote or table. Of course it’s not the same as little page markers and a soft pencil to gently annotate the page. There is something beautifully tangible about books, whether they are new or old. I’m a child of paper upbringing and it’s a hard history to shake off.

I was lucky enough to be brought up with book-loving parents who took us to countless second hand bookstores. When I was primary age my mother worked in an independent bookshop which was such an old building that there really was a curtain behind the counter, behind which a trap door mysteriously led to an underworld cellar of stock. On days off school I would live in between the boxes of books, playing games, reading and colouring in. By the time I was employable I got a Saturday job in the same bookshop, sadly now moved to modern premises. The theological specialism allowed me to use my discount to build my own library, from NT Greek lexicons to theological classics. The world of the bookshop was never dull. Over the years I worked there there were numerous adventures including shoplifting children, petrol bombings (yes really, although it was a mistake – they thought we were stocking the Satanic Verses & it was actually the bookshop fifty yards along the street), death threats, romances and suffering people. Everyone came in, it was somewhere that felt like home. Days were long, but I look back on working there with great fondness. I could easily have told you the price of any size or translation of the Bible, from cloth covering to red letter calfskin deluxe. There is something so enticing about buying books.

It doesn’t really matter if the books are old or new. If a book is new then it is the unopenedness of it which is so exciting. Of course my bibliophile upbringing meant that you NEVER broke a spine. The book adapts to you, is a reflection of you using it. If the book is second hand you inherit the book and it’s accompanying heritage. I’ve queued up to have editions signed by a favourite author, but there is something mysterious about inheriting someone else’s inscription and then turning the pages to see what words of wisdom might be penciled in the margins. There is something wonderful about owning books. For ten years I commuted to work and I had the opportunity to read so many books, there was those moments on the tube where you checked out what everyone else was reading before settling into your own little world. Perhaps if i was still commuting I might have succumbed to a little ereader for transport ease, but maybe I would do what I have done with many audio books purchased and that is buy t20131109-165730.jpghe print edition as well. I admire those people who are able to pass books on once read, but the hoarder in me likes to see a well stocked shelf, each spine a memory of the time and location when the book was read. I love libraries, but I tend not to want to give the books back! I promise I have no outstanding fines. The wonderful thing about libraries is that they celebrate books. This week I saw that a new academy opened up its library with this quotation written on the wall, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library” by Jorge Luis Borges. I think it’s a legitimate idea. I was so impressed by the unveiling of the beautiful new Birmingham library as a celebration of the written word. Books deserve to be treated well and stored in a beautiful way and the architecture is stunning (http://www.libraryofbirmingham.com)

So with this tribute to books you can imagine my feelings about books in schools. I have to hold my tongue at the piles of text books in their unloved state, but feel am uplifted by the sight of children engrossed in a book, even if it was me telling them to put it away because the lesson is starting. The advert for a particular ereader with children absorbed is great, because ultimately we want them to read, but I wonder if the turning of pages back and forth transcribes to the electronic swiping experience. Maybe it does and I am sounding a little like a plodosaurus, but for now schools should be encouraging that contact with books. Don’t be ripping out shelves and replacing them with charging points. The library is not the same thing as a study centre, it is the home of books, with their dazzling colours and huge variety of shapes and sizes. I’ve worked in schools with amazing librarians and they have worked hard to make the library a place where intellectual curiosity thrives. Long before surfing or googling, discovering books was running a finger along a shelf, dipping in and out of the books that lived there. I’m excited by what future technology brings and that is as true for electronic books too – you only have to see ‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore‘ to see that, but let’s not miss out on the tangibility factor of opening a book just yet. I’ll finish with the infinitely more eloquent words of Winston Churchill:

“If you cannot read all your books…fondle them—peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances.”

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2 thoughts on “Celebrating books: covers, pages, spines and ink

  1. It’s a scary thought for sure to think of a world in which children will be raised without the wonderful, personal experience of opening an old book with that singular, special old book smell and discovering what the book holds in store.

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