I love books. Yes, a Kindle is a brilliant gadget, but there is something about having an old-fashioned book in my hand – the feel of the paper, the weight, the sussurus as the pages turn – that grips me. Perhaps it was because, as a child, I read constantly – books were my friends and my treasures. I drove my mother mad keeping me with a supply of reading material – I was a member of two, and later three different local libraries, and we drove over to one or other at least once a week. Six from Carnegie, four from Dulwich, six from West Norwood – more than once I had finished one of them by the time we had driven home. Books were (and are) the escape from the mundane, a means to transfer myself into bright, extraordinary, occasionally frightening landscapes and stories, a way to meet remarkable people and confront dreadful odds... and win.
My bookshelves at home groan under the weight of more than two thousand books, mostly paperbacks, collected over thirty years. Over a thousand more languish in boxes in the spare room and the attic, relegated there in a desperate effort to prevent a lawsuit by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Shelves. New books materialise with frightening regularity, as if by magic. And I know my books. Every cover is somewhere in my mind's eye, most of the plots can be teased out of my memory with only a few moments' thought, or a brief flick through. They are still my friends. I would be lost without them.
Can the Kindle or its ilk replace that?
My first thought is to say never.
And yet... and yet I picture the books boxed up in the attic, almost inaccessible, miserable and feeling unloved. The contents of those boxes don't see the light of day. I can't casually pick one up and page through it, reminding myself of the pleasures of the story. If I had them on my Kindle, wouldn't that make them available to me again?
I don't have a simple answer to that... except that you can't, with a Kindle, easily pick up a book almost at random off the shelf and flip to a favourite scene, or glance at a cover in passing and remember the adventures within.
No, even if I do get prosecuted by the SPCS, I can't do without at least some real books in the house. The Kindle is a neat piece of kit, but paper books are still my first love.