Tuesday, May 20, 2014


more real books, please

If I read one more article about how "traditional books" (otherwise known as "books") are dead - or at least languishing unloved on their deathbeds, if not actually yet as extinct as dinosaurs, then very nearly there, truly any day now - well, I don't know what I'll do.  I hereby refuse to link to any of these articles because I do not want to spread this particular gospel.  But I will say that I seem to have been noticing articles such as this for over twenty years now.  I must be getting old and curmudgeonly since at this point I merely harumph and keep coveting and buying and reading actual books.

As I was tidying up my book booth at the local antiques mall last weekend, though, I did overhear two women talking about reading.  One said she liked to come in here and look at the books.  The other laughed and said, "If it doesn't go on a Kindle I don't even look at it anymore!"

Sigh.  So, okay.  Things change.  Whatever.  (I do so hate that word, but, like, oh, my god, whateverrr.)

Since I am a big believer in asking for what I want, in life, I mean really spelling it out and being as specific as possible, just to make things ridiculously easy for Fate, I forthwith offer this brief plea to the gods and goddesses of the written word: 

Dear writers, editors, agents, publishers, booksellers, and other worthy book trade folk,

Please allow me to continue reading actual books.  For the rest of my life.  Please do not replace them all with ephemeral downloadables and/or cloud-based word-filled products which require plastic reading machines which themselves require batteries.  You see, I am so very fond of books as books, and thus I will continue to do my part - more than my part! - to support you and your businesses by spending money on books indefinitely, as well as talking them up whenever possible.  Thank you so much for your attention to this matter.


Your humble servant,


p.s. Please consider extending the life expectancy of the book to include the life spans of my young nieces and nephews, since they love reading real books too.  Or even longer than that.  Perhaps indefinitely?  Whatever works best for you.

p.p.s. Please cc to hawkers of digital devices - you know who - particularly those intent on putting "heritage publishers" (otherwise known as "publishers") out of business.

Disclaimer:  if someone reading this happens to have a Kindle or a Nook or what-have-you, all well and good.  I have friends who love and use them often and we remain friends.  I would never disparage anyone who thinks they are useful and handy and fun.  But please, book gods and goddesses, don't take away real books forever.  They are fine just as they are.  Really.  Room enough, and market share enough, for everyone. 

Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about my latest acquisition, mentioned briefly in the last post: Ronald Blythe's collection of short essays, Village Hours (Canterbury Press 2012). A lovely little hardcover, a pleasure to hold, with a fittingly rural John Nash painting on the dust jacket.

I've been reading his series of Church Times essays for several years now, and while the very first printed collection of them, Word from Wormingford (reprinted by Canterbury - get this edition, which is printed on much better paper than the original edition), retains a special place in my heart for its high level of delight-inducement, I want to say that his writing does seem to get better and better as he ages.  He is in his early 90s now, and the essays range so widely in subject, but are all based on the parish year and turning of the seasons, and are all redolent, evocative, and clear-seeing. Each paragraph contains multitudes (p.72):

"The summer beats down.  Birds call in the wood.  The clickety-clack of Duncan's old haymaker ceases, like all human endeavours in Ecclesiastes, and is followed by an interesting silence.  All the old roses are in full sway.  William Lobb, John Clare, and Cardinal Richelieu cense the garden.  I read novels in the sun.  Fiscal illiteracy protects me from the news."

His magpie mind stores up and then brings forth association after association, from centuries of literary history and decades of his personal history.  And oh, he is so very bookish.  He writes them, writes about them, reads them, and rearranges them (p.38):

"Is it not a fact that when a bookcase is emptied out upon the floor its contents double in volume?  Such tall unsteady piles.  I sit among them, regretting my folly."

As a homebody with a cat asleep at my elbow, most days, I appreciate his outlook (p.33):

"Back home, book proofs have arrived, and must be read with a fine-tooth comb lest some terrible word gets into print.  The white cat and I check them with diligence, although she cannot spell.  Animals like to find us at some mechanical task, breathing regularly, set in our ways.  These are essays written long ago, so that I keep running into my previous self, sometimes with admiration, though not always."  

I know how he feels.  I've been looking in my old diaries, with some happiness and much embarrassment.  Much like reading the archives of this blog - so much time has passed, and so much has changed.  Although many essentials do thankfully remain.  I really love reading not just diaries, but also almanac-format books, I have come to realize.  While deep into Ronald Blythe's book, following his progress month by month, I am also in the middle of re-reading The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate 2007).  Another book set into the framework of seasons and the year, unfolding in the predictable month-by-month pattern.  Both books are open-ended yet neatly limited, tidy yet vividly spacious within each season. Both are about human beings recognizing and working with nature and time, and their inevitability.  I dearly want to read The Kitchen Diaries Volume II and all the other Nigel Slater books I don't already have and all the Ronald Blythe books I don't yet own.  And, and, and...  As you can see, I will be buying books forever, as long as they continue to be written and to exist, as books.  I promise.  (I know it's dangerous to make promises, but I hope I can make this particular one with more than a dash of impunity.)

A best selling author, whose blog I follow, mentioned his liking for electronic books, followed by the comment that most of his readers and friends want real books, prefer real books, and are not reading his books by electronic means. Hope that cheers your day!
It does, Kim, thanks! I tend to think that the dead-book articles I mention make some erroneous assumptions about readers and what we want. Particularly how we want to read.

I was working in a new-book store when books first came out on cd-rom, nearly 25! years ago, and I remember reading similar dead-book propaganda back then. The cd-roms did not sell well, I remember that too. The extra bells and whistles they contained weren't all that appealing, I thought. A lot has changed since then, and since I don't really know what I'm talking about with downloadables and such (other than that lots of money is being made on them, surely), I'll leave it there. Before I sound like an antiquarian. Oh, wait...
Books will survive. Unlike an 8-track or a CD-ROM, cast aside when a newer, fleeting advancement is made, the power of books extends far beyond the technology that produces them. New books printed on paper may decline more and more, but their power as objects will carry them on. Books will be treasured, held, valued, and read long after a time we can only dream of...
Thank you, anon, for your trenchant and heartening words. I agree with you completely. Books radiate. And those who seek their company see that light easily.
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