Claire King


Ode to books

Posted on: September 27th, 2011 by Claire - 20 Comments

My name is Claire and I like books made of paper.

It is becoming increasingly unfashionable to admit this, a little like saying I prefer…well, what is it like?

  • LPs to CDs?
  • Telephone boxes to mobile phones?
  • Horse drawn carriages to modern day cars?

No, none of these analogies fit because books are not being antiquated by technology. There are elements of improvement and technological advance – digital books have huge potential for interactivity, portability, etc. But there are also elements of paper books that are not improved by rendering them electronic.

I was reminded of this on my recent visit to Tilton House. It was such a joy to find books all over the house, like a treasure hunt. You could find them, of course, in the library – novels, autobiographies, some I have read, many I have not. All of them waiting to entice you in a spare moment and have you browse their pages.

In the sitting room and the conservatory there were coffee table books – biographies, textbooks, and some rather strange and unusual tomes.

I even found inspiration in the books found in the bathroom – if you’re a writer and have never seen a copy of the Collins Guide to Roses by Bertram Park then check it out. You’ll never be stuck for a character name again.

I was lucky enough to visit the neighbouring Charleston, home to the Bloomsbury set. There J.M. Keynes (as a regular visitor) had been awarded his own bedroom. As someone who has spent a lot of time studying Keynes, the opportunity for me to nose around his bookshelves was the chance to peer into the mind of the man, not just the economist. On his shelves was Punch – lots of Punch, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the manifesto of the communist party and many other books that allowed my imagination to fly. Thank goodness Keynes didn’t have a Kindle.

I do have a Kindle. It’s very practical for travelling, and for buying books that I suspect I will only read once. But I do still buy paper books. I love the covers, I love the tactile nature of the pages that transform the book under the weight of your fingertips.

Last week I spend an hour browsing in a bookshop to buy two children’s books. It would have taken me ten minutes on Amazon, but the whole process is so much less fun.

Perhaps the best analogy I can come up with is the love letter. It’s very nice to recieve a romantic email or a cute text message. It costs nothing to send, it’s fast and no trees are killed. But there is something about receiving those words hand written on paper: something physical, something sensual, something that can be held to the heart today, and left for those who follow to find.

20 Responses

  1. A lovely tribute, Claire. There’s nothing like holding a book as one sits in a comfy chair by the window, sets down the cup of tea, and proceeds to enter another world.

    Love letters! Yes.

  2. Claudia says:

    I like paper books too. It means I can proudly get my friends to sign the ones they’ve written and you just can’t do that with a Kindle! Looking forward to yours, Claire – there’ll be a space waiting for it (and all those to follow) on my shelf even if I have to build more 🙂

  3. Personally, my selfish view is, how the hell do I as an author sign a copy of an ebook?!

  4. Eliza Green says:

    I love paper books- the light versions, because I read at night. Heavy books are hard to hold when lying in bed. I haven’t been converted to a Kindle yet and I’m not entirely convinced about their page turning technology. The black to white ratio is still too much!

  5. Absolutely! An inspiring post, a love-song to paper books in itself.

  6. What a lovely post. I adore paper books. I love everything about them, their smell, their texture and structure and handling them is a real pleasure. However, I also share your view that a Kindle has its place, being particularly useful when travelling.

    Personally I believe print and ebooks complement each other. For me it’s not necessarily about one being preferable over the other. It’s more that the time and place I read decides the choice I make.

  7. The fragrance of a brand new book… the paper’s texture in a Penguin… the colors of the spines on the shelf… and on top of this, I can read them, too.
    Yeah, books are good.
    Michael – I am an obsessive saver of links, and I have one on electronic signing for Kindle:

  8. Janetyjanet says:

    Wonder if, as conversion technologies and pricing structures mature, it would be possible to get an electronic version of a book when you buy the paper copy? I tried ebooks on my iPad for the first time ever on my recent holiday and loved the space saving ability it gave me, and found the reading experience fine. But I still want to have books overflowing my shelves and lurking in corners around the house – and I have an unreasoned but uncomfortable feeling that I’ve been short changed when I’ve paid out for an ebook as I don’t have the physical book to show for my money – and yes, I also still prefer to have a cd and load it onto my mp3 rather than download the music! Perhaps it’s a generational thing as well. Who knows, perhaps the coffee table book will be replaced by the interactive coffee table – but for now I will still retain my judgemental yardstick of not trusting anyone who doesn’t have shelves full of books throughout their house…

    • claire says:

      I think that in an ideal world you should, that way you don’t have to buy twice, which some people do and doesn’t seem fair at all. Meanwhile yes – no books, no sex. OR, you know, cups of tea.

  9. jaxbees says:

    Yes, yes, yes! I spend all day at the pc screen, I have no need for another screen when I log off.I love everything about books: covers; Waterstones; reading in the bath. Call me a luddite but it’s going to take a lot to turn me kindle! Great post!

  10. Martha says:

    My gran’s name is scrawled in a lot of my kids’ books. Not her married name, her maiden name, written in childish writing.

    In our house, a Kindle would have to be waterproof, crash-proof, stomp-proof and stretchy. It would have to tolerate coffee rings, yoghurt, bath steam, sun lotion, sand and salt. It would have to function despite being uncharged for weeks on end and might even end up as a teddy bear’s picnic table. I have been through enough laptops to know that, where practicable, we are a house of hard copy.

  11. Oh me too, me too! I don’t think I’d get half the same enjoyment out of lying in bed or in a bath with a kindle – books just feel so…I don’t know! Special? Unique? Warm? Familiar?

    I am getting a kindle for Christmas, to have a few books on for when I’m waiting outside ballet or swimming classes, but I really don’t think I will ever be lying in bed reading it!

  12. Pete says:

    My view exactly. I love both for the reasons described. I’m hoping we will have a world in which they co-exist. I like to think that textbooks and ‘read once’ books will be on Kindle / iPad leaving me room for photography books and novels I return to.

  13. claire says:

    Interesting article here, as Amazon publishing talk about their model, and keep mentioning actual paper books in actual book shops:

  14. Marcus Speh says:

    I second all of this. Last week I spent hours carrying books that I hadn’t touched in years down to the car and (at the other end of a journey) back up again to my office. Since I couldn’t find a trolley, I asked my students to help me carry them: if you’d been there you’d have seen 20 students each of them carrying 5-10 books, follow me up the stairs into the elevator and into my office where they lingered, touching, opening the books, reading in them. Making little comments, a little awed since they didn’t know what books I liked. All of this was only possible because they were paper books. And now, after I’ve unburdened myself, I’m going to get back to my Kindle 😉

Leave a Reply