I really enjoyed reading this guest blog by Tansy Raynor Roberts at Justine Larbalestier’s blog: Reading as a Luxury.
Part of it resonated with me, and sparked something I’ve felt for a long time now about digital books versus hard copies. (I remember saying this during my undergrad publishing studies, too, and as much as I love technology, I’m surprised I’m not more sold on digital books.)
My hardwired memory of books is not just about the words and ideas, it’s about the whole product. . . . Leaving Terry Pratchett hardcover sleeves randomly around the house like fallen apple peelings. The flop. The spines. The end papers. The mysterious blank pages at the end of all my Famous Five novels as a child, which I treated as spare paper, drawing tiny graphic novels to myself. Mysterious inscriptions in second hand books.
I love books. I love them. I love reading, of course, but I love the books themselves. One of my earliest memories is my mother reading the Little House on the Prairie series to me. I remember how perfectly, how precisely she formed each word, the way her lips would press together and then part; the rise and fall of her voice, steady and deliberate and calm; and the books, the rustle of the pages, the way the book filled her hands, solid and real. I had those books for years, for most of my life, and I read them frequently even as an adult. I read them to feel closer to my family after I graduated from high school and left home. I read them because, despite the racist flaws, parts of the story still resonate with me. I read them because they were old favorites and when I was stressed about life, they gave me a brief respite that came not just from the story, but from the books themselves, from all the memories caught in the physical feel of them.(1) I read the books until the covers fell off; I taped them back together. I read them until the spine cracked and pages fluttered down like dead leaves; I glued them back inside.
I read them until, in 2005, I realized I couldn’t justify packing and moving tattered books which were too fragile to read ever again.
I still haven’t replaced the books. Someday I will, and when I do, the fresh copies will be crisp and clean, devoid of memories. I’ll hold them and sniff them(2) and read them. They’ll be fresh canvases for new memories, but also, as I read and reread and the paper goes soft beneath my fingers when I turn the page, they will take on the memories I carry of previous physical copies.
I love technology. I love it. It allows me to do so many things. It can’t give me this, though, the book in my hand and all the things that means.
(1) Not just memories of my mother, either. I grew up close enough to Mansfield, Missouri that I was able to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum with a family friend, who gifted me one one of the later books not included in the main set, at least in the 1980s when my mother bought mine.
(2) What? Some people like new car smell, I like new book smell.