Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Electronic Equipment Seduces Me, but I Resist

I've commented before on the strange dissimilarity between myself and a very old friend  (32 years and counting), concerning her dislike of second hand books. Second hand books are one of the greatest joys of my life. She already has a Kindle (150 books on it waiting to be read, when I saw her last week), and has now bought an I-pad.  I asked her what she was going to use if for, and she didn't know.  You can read books on an Ipad, as well as play games and do emails.  She already has equipment to do all that, and I have to conclude that it was the aesthetic beauty of the I-pad which she could not resist. I thought the same myself, whilst waiting in PC World recently for the stock department to cough up a result for a new laptop I was considering purchasing. I was drawn to the display of Ipads, and picked one up.  It was lovely to hold, lovely to look at, and the clarity of the graphics was just so brilliant.  I was terribly tempted, but had to keep telling myself, "You cannot run Microsoft Office on this equipment, and the whole reason I wish to buy a new laptop is so that I can run the full suite of Office equipment and send documents electronically with ease to others using the same programmes."

The possibibility of reading books on an I-Pad was not a factor at all in my thinking.  I love the feel of old books, I love the colour of old paper, and the distinctive character of different type faces.  The physical weight of a real book tells you something about the contents.  After Hilary Mantel won the Booker prize a second time last week, I retrieved from my bookcase my copy of her first win, "Wolf Hall". It's a hardback, which cost £1 in a charity shop.   About eighteen months ago, charity shops were flooded out with copies of "Wolf Hall", presumably because people had found it to be unreadable, after being given copies for Christmas.  The heavy, solemn dimensions give a preview of what the book will be like to read - not light or frothy.

At the present time, I am reading a copy of "A Pair of Blue Eyes", by Thomas Hardy.  My copy, sourced in the excellent "Oxfam" Bookshop in Guildford, was printed in 1895.  It is not a "First Edition" (the book was published in 1873), but a first "new" edition of the version printed by the American publisher, Osgood, McIlvaine.

Well over 100 years old, the spine is weak, and bits of old brown paper drop out of the binding when I prop it up in my book stand to read over meals.

The paper is yellow, the margins wide, the cut edges of the paper uneven, and the typeface small,  hard to read without my reading glasses.

Wishing to find out more about the book,  I went to the local library and took out a modern edition, "The Oxford World's Classics"  version.  This gives two maps of Wessex, a preface, an Introduction, a Note on the Text, a reading list, other historical notes, and an Appendix.

This is a pristine paperback, with a colour picture on the cover, and only one borrower has taken it out before me. It is printed in the Oxford Classics typeface, exactly the same as that used in its companion, "Jude the Obscure", also in my library pile.

The book smells of nothing, and gives out no atmosphere.  I have read all the introductions and notes, but not the text (even though it differs slightly from the earlier, as TH revised it frequently during his lifetime, and this version has taken into account revisions later than 1895).

It does not stimulate my imagination.  Reading the yellowing pages of the older book conjures up a time when women wore long skirts, had no vote and little chance of any education, and had to rely on marriage for a chance to leave the family home.  Ladies, in particular, had to be shy, modest, able to play the piano and ride a horse, and had to have a spotless and unkissed past in order to impress a gentleman suitor.  It is easy to connect with that long ago time when the book connects you with it.  The new book, a uniform edition, has no such effect.

I do feel that a Kindle would have an even more dampening effect on my imagination. 

Not long ago, on one of my now frequent visits to the library, an assistant approached me and tried to interest me in attending a lecture by Miriam Margolyes on electronic books. This lecture was free, and apparently designed to stimulate interest.


I was shocked, and told her I had no intention of moving over to electronic.  This being in the actual library, I was rather worried that in ten years time there will be no books left on the shelves.

More encouraging was a small book I saw recently in the shop in the British Library.  It was by former Booker Winner Julian Barnes, and was a hymn of praise in favour of real books, and particularly of second hand ones.  I vowed to continue building up my stocks!

1 comment:

  1. Very sad update. Since I wrote this post, the local council has outsourced its library services to a private contractor. The whole of the upper floor of the central library, a vast building designed to serve the whole area, has been closed. It stands empty. All the books have disappeared. On enquiry, I learned that "some have been distributed to other branches, some sold, and the rest destroyed."

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