My father once gave me a dictionary for my birthday; I couldn’t find the words to thank him. Boom, boom! Sorry, that really is a lame dad joke, but I couldn’t resist the temptation.
It was on my dad’s lap that I first fell in love with books. One of my earliest memories is sitting with him by a blazing winter fire, as he read to me the adventures of Toad at Toad Hall. There were always pictures to accompany the magical tales, and I would be transported to fantastic worlds beyond reality, before being carried to bed to dream. Books have the ability to do that, to make us dream, and to carry us away to far off places. I remember receiving the first volume of a children’s encyclopaedia, A to B, and being mesmerised by the chapter on Australia, never imagining at the time that I would one day live in that strange and wonderful land. It was another book I credit with stirring in me the hunger to travel. On my first day at school, not yet five years old, our new teacher read from a book while we sat cross-legged on the classroom floor. She told of a boy and an elephant, and an exotic place where they lived, called India. The pictures painted by the teacher’s words were inspirational, and from that day onwards, I was determined to see the world and all its wonders for myself.
Books have the ability to make us dream
Somewhere along the way since early childhood, rock music, parties, booze and friends took precedence, and there seemed little time to spend reading books; after all, the exuberance of youth needed my complete attention. Work and family responsibilities took over where parties left off, and once again, reading was pushed to the backburner. It wasn’t until I began travelling for business that I rediscovered books and their incredible power. Long flights and too many airport lounges were made bearable by packing a paperback, and from there, there was no turning back; my appetite for the printed page became insatiable.
Someone once said that the invention of tablets and kindle type devices would mean the end of printed literature. Didn’t someone say that about computers once, that we were going to live in a paperless society? In the meantime, paper use has gone up 120% since 1997. Instead of 92million tons per year, consumption is now 208 million tons annually. Take into account that we don’t write letters and put them in the mail anymore, and we get most of our news from the internet instead of newspapers these days, and the results are even more surprising. The fact is, we all own a computer; there’s one at every desk, but we still print everything out just so we can read it properly. There’s an inherent need for hardcopy, even when everything is saved to hard drive. There are many who have embraced digital reading technology, but according to industry book sales data, digital has plateaued at between 25% and 30%. Those reading for pleasure, still prefer paperbacks and hardbacks to digital. I’m one of those diehards, though I’ve tried digital and do read the occasional novel on my Kindle, but there’s something mystical about hardcopy books that you just don’t get from the digital format.
I can’t help turning the pages
I find it hard not to read books in one long sitting; I can’t help turning the pages. I can’t sleep without a few chapters at bedtime, meaning books are consumed very quickly. I finish one and can’t wait for the next, which can get expensive, so I buy lots of second-hand books as well as new. I can’t bring myself to throw books away. Books are tactile and timeless things to cherish. I love to look at them and hold them. A great cover gets me every time and I’ve a small collection of antique books that I began collecting while on my travels. I think about the people who’ve read them and wonder what they thought of the words. I picked up one such set of treasures from a little antiquariat in Minden Germany. The first English translation of Arabian Nights Entertainments. There are four volumes in all, and they are dated 1704. In each volume, there is a handwritten inscription that reads: Lady Anna Maria Stanhope’s Book, Feb 19th1760. Later research brought to life the owner’s identity as the Duchess of Newcastle, great-great-granddaughter to Charles II of England. Her second husband, Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Gregan Craufurd, was an officer in the 1st Dragoon Guards. He studied and served in Germany and Austria during the war with the French. I’m guessing that he took his wife’s books to Germany for his off-duty entertainment, and left the books behind there. I read those books occasionally, and imagine the Duchess reading them to her friends over tea at court, or her husband taking time out from the front line in Europe, and reading those very same stories to take his mind off the battles.
Like the books themselves, libraries and bookshops are places of pleasure. Browsing can take hours. It’s just not the same, trolling through book listings online. Some of these venues have places to sit and read, coffee shops and surroundings that encourage one to sit and take the time to enjoy. Pleasure from books comes from kicking back and relaxing on a beach, in a lush green park or by a cosy fire while the snow whips up around the windows. Try it with a Kindle and you don’t get that same satisfaction somehow.
There’s so much to say about books, I could write a book about it.