Love for the Written Word

This week, I’m re-blogging a post I wrote for one of my publisher’s blog (when I was writing for Musa). I think it’s timely as the sale of printed books are on the increase.

I’m here to discuss a friend’s point of view — one that hadn’t occurred to me before. I’m going to wander a bit because I’m also talking books, but it all comes down to love for the written word.

Some people love e-books, some loathe them. I know some hate the term ‘e-book’ and I take that argument on board. A ‘book’ is a bound set of pages. Maybe it would be more accurate to call the electronic file of a book an e-novel or e-story because I don’t feel the presentation affects the content. The story ‘exists’ the moment the author penned it. When one used typewriters or even quills and ink, that didn’t make the story exist any less, although by no definition could hand written or typed pages be called ‘books’.

I’m not against electronic files of books, but I still love paper books. Always will. I admit there’s nothing like a physical book that can be held in the hand. It’s nostalgic. If a gift, we may recollect when we opened a brightly wrapped package, the moment we first set eyes on it, felt that fission of pleasure, and spare a moment’s thought for the person who gifted it. An electronic file, for the most part, lacks the personal touch. An old book, even when it deteriorates with time… Well, those creases in the spine and cover could have been put there over many years of handling and love. I don’t see a scruffy book as one that has necessarily been discarded or ill-used. Also, for someone like me who spends a great deal of time in front of computer screens, then the printed page is a departure from that, although e-readers are improving all the time and this may not always be an issue.

Saying that, there’s room for both formats in my life simply owing to practicality. For one thing, I write e-books and would be a total hypocrite to then say I hate them. I don’t hate them. I would love to live in the kind of library the Beast gave to Beauty in the Disney film — just push my bed and a chair and table into the middle, I’ll be fine — but so far I’ve yet to stumble across any enchanted castles even if I’ve found my Prince Charming. I love all sorts of books from the classics to children’s stories, fantasy and horror, and yes, some romances. I can be fussy about my romances more than any genre, I think, but I do read them along with all the other genres I love — to call my book collection eclectic is an understatement.

Unfortunately, I simply don’t have room for all the books I would love to read and own. I’m one of those readers, who, if I love a book, I struggle to part with it. I’ve relatives who don’t understand this. They feel a book once read or a film once seen is finished with. The story has been told; the reader/viewer knows what will happen, so why read/watch it again. I understand the point, but I disagree with it. A much-loved experience can be enjoyed again. It can be enjoyed more because often one can miss things on a first pass just as an author can during the writing process.

Among my many ‘wants’, I would love to own an entire library of classics. I’ve an abiding love for them. It amazes me when I hear someone say today that they’ve never read any of the literary greats. Black Beauty, Heidi, Pride and Prejudice, Gulliver’s Travels, Oliver Twist…all these books and more were among my childhood reads. I cannot even remember them being referred to as ‘classics’ — they were just books and they were adventures. They took me to different worlds and gave me experiences I would never have had otherwise. I read them alongside stories such as The Water Babies, What Katy Did, Ballet Shoes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I never differentiated. Now they are looked upon as stuffy, and dry, the language outdated. I cannot help feeling that people were better educated, more eloquent and literate when such books were read at a younger age. I was born at a time when almost all parents read to their children, where I was given books for older children than my age, and if I couldn’t read them right away, well I wanted to, and it made me strive to learn. If I didn’t know a word my parents handed me a dictionary and told me to look it up, and yes, I took the time to do so. So these books have remained with me, ingrained.

The electronic format has allowed me to revisit some of these classics I’ve lost through moves, through lack of space. I am grateful. They are adventures and memories revisited, and I can keep them in virtual ‘space’. Although I still often buy my favourite authors in print, I have branched out and discovered others owing to electronic formats. I would prefer a world where there wasn’t an argument for or against, but where all can live in support and cooperation. In an advanced society, life is about individual choice.

My thinking was personified when speaking with a friend of mine. This friend is in his seventies and he recently bought an e-reader…and adores it. His reason is simple — he has struggled to read a book for some time. His eyes aren’t quite as they used to be and there may be other factors in his health, but whatever the reason, he can ‘see’ the words better on his reader as opposed to looking at a printed page. He can also increase the font size if need be, or zoom in. His reader has made his whole reading experience come alive again, and where he had as good as given up reading, or took a long time to struggle through a single novel, he’s reading again…devouring books, and what I saw in his eyes as he told me all this was joy.

So I’m just putting this thought out there for those very much against. Maybe e-books and e-readers aren’t for everyone, and for some, they may never be, but I think this proves that it’s pointless to criticise the needs of another person and that none of us can know what we may one day need ourselves. Should there be anyone saying they’d rather give up reading than commit sacrilege and read electronic books, then I can only think nose, spite, face. I could never give up reading. I’ve never heard such venomous arguments over audio books, which many people enjoy who aren’t blind and who don’t have seeing difficulties. The argument may stem from fear — a dread that the production of printed books will one day cease, and I understand that emotion well. Without printed books, this would be a poorer world, but one cannot ignore the increase of electronic formats — something I knew would take off long before the first e-reader was even conceived. Simply, there may come a time where e-readers exist alongside things like audio books and are considered as commonplace, where they’re a lifeline for some, and — just as someone brought books into my life to enrich it — in my ‘book’ that makes their existence tolerable and even worthwhile.

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