Monday, 26 September 2011

An e-reader's lament for the book case

What will become of the book case? The shelf, the stack and the pile?

Til now, a home is not a home that doesn't have at least one wall given over to jostling colourful spines. Books read, loved, received, abandoned. The shelves tell their own story. 

The progress from empty shelf to bulging, double-stacked collection charts the chapters of a life. And a book case isn't a static thing, it grows like at tree. Volumes are shed in clearings out and givings away, only to make way in the spring for the new, fresh discoveries.

But it's more than just a place to keep reading matter. Of course it is. It's vanity, declaration, revelation and, sometimes deception. Are there intellectual tomes you aspire to? One day, I'll read that. When I've got time. Topics selected to shine a little light on another facet - mountains I've climbed, subjects I've learned, places I've visited. I am the kind of person who needs that text in her life. Dog-eared is essential, it proves the point.  It's a written representation of the sum of my parts.

And the secrets. Where do you keep the books that don't come up to scratch. The lusty pot-boilers, the romance with the garish cover, the porn? I'll bet they're stashed on a another shelf that visitors don't see. 

What of the joy of shuffling crab-wise in front of the book-lined walls of an emporium, treasure-trove of literature? Head tilted: "Ah, look. I read this when I was at school. Oh, I didn't know she's written something else." Flicking through the boxes at the jumble sale. "Have I read that before?" Three for a pound. 

But, then, in my bag. A shiny, glossy, glorious new e-reader is nestled. If I want a book, I press a few buttons and it ping-zips onto the virtual shelf. A little stroke and the pages turn. Too dark, to light, to small, no problem. Sigh. It's just so easy and lovely. 

So what will become of the book case?

As time passes will the spines get dusty and faded, tired of telling their tale of a reader in 2011? Will books join those techno dinosaurs the videotapes when even the charity shops don't want them?  If I clear the space, what's going to happen to that wall in the sitting room? Is another painting of the sea the only memorial the book shelf will get? 

What will become of the book case?


  1. Well said Ellen. I feel exactly the same about my books! I particularly like the tree metaphor :-) I have trained myself (unwillingly) to always shed a few at the the same time as acquiring more.

    Books I think, physically represent part of our interior lives.

    I have tried a Kindle. It is not the same. It is like convenience food - handy but too quick to whet an appetite and ultimately - disposable. I like the tactile and visual qualities of a book much more.

    Merry Kate (Twitter)

  2. I love my bookshelves - the stories they hold - not just between the covers, but of our lives. It is a living thing, a bookcase. Often, if I am looking for a specific book, another will jump out at me and off I go in another direction, Who knows what it might inspire? I love too the randomness of my unsorted shelves - who ends up next to who.
    And yet, the e-reader has it's place, I suppose. I do have an app on my phone. I am just reminded of Wells: The Time Machine, and the fate of books and mankind. x

  3. Merry, I've just spent a fantastic weekend at the Wigtown Book Festival, much of which was spent poking around old bookshops. Heaven.

    The Barefoot Crofter, I love mooching through other people's bookshelves too. They are fascinating.

  4. Oh this is close to my heart!
    I popped a photo of my bulging bookcase on the blog last week when I wondering what would happen to hotel book swaps/libraries if everyone used their Kindles instead. Also, what would happen to my holiday pastime of wandering past people on their sunbeds working out their nationality and book taste at a glance!

    Your bookcase looks well loved - even the upside down books have a charm about them!

  5. Trish, I love Kate Atkinson and I love your post. I'd forgotten about the joys of the hotel book swap.

  6. Had my e-reader for years and it certainly has it's place...used for luggage restriction holidays only! Like a rushed dinner from the chippy, useful and enjoyed but will never be my norm.

  7. I couldn't think of world without the book shelf. I love it and I think it adds warmth within the home. My daughter already has a small library in her room :) I tried the whole download of book on Itunes but it just doesn't cut it.

  8. MumB, that's an excellent way of looking at it.

    Daft Mamma, I agree, a room isn't right without books.

  9. hah, I was helping a friend view flats recently - first thing I did was to sneakily check her prospective flatmate's bookshelves & CDs...

  10. stronginwill, you're going to have to start demanding to see what's on the Kindle now.


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