I have always loved books. I used to dream of having a house big enough that one of the rooms could be used as a library. The room would have lots of light, a reclining chair, silence, and of course shelves and shelves of books. I never built the library but I did buy the books. Owning so many books led me and others to believe that I was a collector. But then I moved to Japan and gave away hundreds of books. It wasn’t hard to do, the most difficult thing really was lifting the boxes after I overfilled them. I kept enough books to stuff six large bookcases, but I only kept books that I was likely to read again, or books that had been given to me as gifts.
I should have realised that I wasn’t a collector a long time ago. I was about thirteen when I first came across someone who could read books without marking the spine. You couldn’t tell that the book had been read at all. I wanted to read those books badly enough that I borrowed them and held them rigidly, never opening the book fully. I was careful to make sure that I didn’t leave any indication that I had been there, but it was hard work. The concept made no sense to me. Why did it matter if you could tell that a book had been read? Was a line on the spine really so terrible? I was also able to buy boxes of second hand books. Old grotty books that look like generations of families including their dogs had read them. And then there were all those hours of my childhood spent reading in the local library without ever feeling a desire to own those books.
This is on my mind because of the Kindle. I have friends who are really surprised that I like the Kindle. It smells and feels like a lump of plastic, even with its leather cover. It’s not that book-like and it did seem to everyone around me that I loved books. But it’s not the smell of books, how they feel, or how pretty they look on my bookshelf that matters to me, it’s the words that are written inside them. I want to read stories, learn new things, spend my evenings mulling over poetry and philosophy, and as long as I can do that quickly and without hurting my eyes I’m not that concerned about how that information is delivered.
Alan, in his post about his Kindle, talks about how he doesn’t really read books on it. I’ve had mine for about 14 months and I’ve read 94 books. I’m in the process of reading 3 books, and I have a another 11 books still to be read. I also have reference books stored, but those are not the sort of thing you read through from start to finish. I do still buy paper books but only if I can’t get them for my Kindle or if they are books filled with coloured pictures where the visual layout is as important as the words.
My Kindle isn’t perfect. Just the other night it rearranged all my books and I was once stuck on a plane when it decided to turn itself into a lump of plastic. Perfect or not I find it hard to leave home without and given its storage capacity I’m less likely to get stuck reading the labels of shampoo bottles when my addiction to reading kicks in.