A case for paper

“They look untidy.”

I bridle, hackles rise. “They’re not there to look tidy.”

“You can’t possibly have read them all.”

The eyes narrow. “Wanna bet?” Okay, that wasn’t strictly true. I hadn’t read the leftover footballer’s memoirs I’d bought him for Christmas. Or the car mechanic’s manuals. Nor had I any intention of doing so.

The books were always a contentious problem. In an ideal world there would be a room where I could simply insulate myself from the world with wall to wall volumes, stacked perhaps by author or even subject with utter disregard for aesthetics. On open fire, a comfy chair, dog asleep on the rug and a glass of wine… Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world and the books had, to be fair, taken up residence in practically every available space. In a house that had suddenly filled with extra people, that was admittedly not ideal.

Picture 024Gradually the books were consigned, shelf by shelf, to the attic. Not the kind of attic that is easily accessible either, but the overstuffed loft attainable only by means of a precarious ladder that requires great delicacy when navigating the beams and cobwebs.

He never understood that by banishing the books I felt that he was burying part of me and I, of course, was far too submissive and needy to put my foot down. Ultimately, of course, it didn’t matter. I could get into the loft every so often and change the handful of books I had to hand; I could also re-read in memory the images conjured by decades of stories and dredge up the knowledge gleaned over the years. I was not allowed to read in anyone else’s presence anyway. The TV was the central fact of life in the house. Reading was deemed antisocial.

Needless to say that relationship failed in obvious terms, though in as far as it taught me to wake up and stop being such a mouse, it was a resounding success. I learned a lot about myself, little of it pleasant. But the books came back downstairs where they now reside, untidily and gloriously, in every possible place.

sheffield book weekend 031I had, however, been given a Kindle by my son. The discreet little device allowed me to carry a library in my handbag, turning it into a portable manifestation of L-space. I once more had books to read, but grateful though I was for the convenience and accessibility of the written word, it lacked that special something. It wasn’t just the tactile or olfactory presence of a book, there is something about the printed word that feels different. I never felt the same relationship with e-books that I do with their paper counterparts, in spite of the undoubted joy of being able to continue reading a book on my phone in a queue or waiting room.

I know the ecological arguments against paper, though I am yet to be convinced that plastic and electronics are going to be friendlier long term. I know too the feeling of holding a book hundreds of years old that needs only the technology of eyes and mind to use it in the same way it was first read.

This morning I saw an article on the neuroscience behind the reading process that probably explains the difference. It seems we really don’t build the same relationship with an e-book that we do with paper. We skim, attention skips, we get distracted… we don’t read deeply and assimilate the ideas in the same way.

Picture 017Although motivated by a joint love of old-fashioned books and the kind of bookshop that is, according to Terry Pratchett “just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read”, it was for this reason, though known only instinctively, that we chose to produce paper copies of our books as well as the more economical e-book.

I will never forget the first time I held a book that had my name on the cover; or my mother’s voice when she unwrapped a copy of the first of her books in print; or the way eyes light up when a new book is delivered and unwrapped, usually with a celebratory pint. Or chasing across town to find the postman who only left a card instead of the books. The thrill of that far surpasses a download.

I need more bookshelves … I hope I always will.

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About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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14 Responses to A case for paper

  1. G. M. Vasey says:

    Call me old fashioned but paper wins every time. The feel, smell, ability to underline and scrawl notes in pencil, pick it up anytime without needing to go to some virtual library and re open it, the coffee satin on the front cover and the occasional pen written dedication …


  2. I’m with you. I had a relationship that went sour as well and one of the problems were all my books. I have a Kindle on my iPad mini with many books I’ve collected already but I am loath to read them there. I miss the feel and special-ness of real books. The article that mentions your mind wanders and doesn’t concentrate as well on an e-Reader is exactly true, in my case for sure. 😛


  3. noelleg44 says:

    Great commentary! I’ve always had a love affair with books, starting with reading books in the basement room – with leaded glass windows and large leather chairs – of our local library, when I was little. Our house has become overrun with books, though, and the sheer number has meant we’ve had to clear many out. My Kindle is invaluable on trips, but for a treat, I buy myself a real paper book, especially if it’s by one of my favorite authors!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ksbeth says:

    i love real books of all kinds the best, too. just wrote about books today as a matter of fact )


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