Books are treasures. They are gateways, or portals, if you prefer that word, to new thinking, new worlds, or old worlds if you re-read a book (I rarely do these days). I love the solidness of a book, it’s realness in my hands, the weight of it, the texture of the cover and the pages. Just walking through a room and catching sight of the spine, or the cover, reminds me of the things I loved, or learned, when I last read it. However…
I’ve reached a point where the value I place on the paper and ink version has finally been eclipsed by the value I place on space, minimalism and sparseness. It’s been a long battle, waged over many years. The seven-foot bookcase in the corner, stuffed to overflowing with books from my past, those treasures I have loved and adored and lugged from pillar to post since my childhood, or those treasures I have been meaning to read for decades and not yet gotten to (but I will, I swear it!) has been a weighty chest that I’ve clung to, sometimes against all logic. It holds textbooks from my undergrad studies, it holds (sometimes multiple) copies of the same book (To Kill a Mockingbird and A Wrinkle In Time, to name just two) because I have loved it so much that I know I’ll want to give a copy away at some point, so best to stock up when I see them on sale in the bookstore or at the second-hand shop.
These relics hold more than the story that’s printed on the pages. They hold memories and vignettes from my past. To Kill A Mockingbird, first read in Year 8, its revelatory racial discrimination tale a clarion call to my burgeoning lefty ratbag heart, is falling to bits now and must be treated as delicately as the shroud of Turin, never being brought out into the sunlight, or held with bare hands lest the oils transferred accelerate its degradation. Or my copy of Alain de Botton’s The News, and Religion for Atheists, with the gold-leaf on the cover, the elegant red swirls.
Books are artefacts, they are more than a mode of reading a text. They are an object that holds significance. I still have my Rough Guide: Egypt from the final holiday I took with my boyfriend, Travis, before we broke up so I could return to Australia and he go back to his life in England. Travis passed away just a few months ago and this book has taken on even greater significance.
My souvenir book from Alcatraz, from the trip I took to visit my friend Dan, who was living in San Francisco at the time, and we got so drunk the night before that we spent the entire tour of Alcatraz either about to vomit, or wishing we could vomit. And taking photos of our re-enactment of famous movie scenes from The Rock and So I Married An Axe Murderer.
My collection of Sweet Valley High and Trixie Belden books, which I actually sold in a garage sale when I was moving to London at age 22, but when I later returned to Australia and had a daughter, bought them all back on eBay to pass down to her.
My beautiful hardcover copy of Australian Bush Ballads, which was a prize when I was in Year 7, won for getting the highest score in the school in a series of spelling, grammar and comprehension tests, in memory of a former teacher of West Mackay State School. My well-worn copy of I Want To Go Home, hands down the funniest book I ever read as a kid.
All these books are more than just the text contained within their pages. They tell me stories of my life, fragments of the past that sit quietly on the shelf waiting for me to pick them up and relive them.
So how can I give those up?
Well, as I get older and get to know myself better, I’m coming to understand that minimalist environment gives me daily peace and joy. The warm white walls, the clean surfaces, unadorned benches free of knick knacks and other clutter, create a sense of utter peace… When I come home from work, I walk into our living room and feel myself mentally exhale. My living spaces – primarily the bedroom, living room and kitchen, are all decorated in whites with sparse black or grey accents and lush green plants. My writing desk, is devoid of the detritus that can so often clutter a writing desk. I have white platforms for my two monitors a white desk, black pens, black mouse and that’s it. My brain works best when no distractions are around and my mental health relishes the clutter free spaces.
I have also learned over the years, with many trinkets and keepsakes of my babies that accumulate, that nothing beats a collected space of memories. An album, to be precise. I photograph EVERYTHING. And I create hardcover, massive albums that collect all the treasured memories and keep them in one spot. (I use Blurb/Bookwright for anyone who’s wondering). I have an album representing each year of our family’s life. They are massive coffee table books and the kids pore over them. This is where our collected memories reside. So I can safely dispose of the first lost tooth, the first cut lock of hair, the first kindy drawing. These are all photographed and detailed in our albums.
I know now that I need order and structure to feel in control. And without getting too OCD about it, it helps my mind rest. If I see things out of place, my mind is restless with the urge to see those things put away, out of sight. When my mind is at rest, I’m free to pursue other things – writing, reading, blogging, thinking, or, just nothing at all. Gasp! The heresy of it all! Sitting and doing nothing but letting one’s mind wander freely. How unproductive.
What else ya got?
But, aside from the space saving elements, there are other reasons. I like the immediacy of being able to buy a book online. Someone recommends something and, bang, two minutes later you have it and can begin reading at any time. No need to wait for a trip to the bookstore or the online shop to deliver it. Yes, it does mean that my virtual TBR pile is absolutely massive, now that I’m not constrained by the fear of a tall pile of books on my nightstand toppling over and killing me while I sleep. But this is a small price to pay.
I also love that I have a book light whenever I read – no need to worry about the dark and my night light keeping my husband awake. I can read until 2am if my heart desires and my iPad is beautifully lit.
Another pro is the ability to carry many, many books with me. Following my recent book club addiction (see my recent Instagram post on BooksAndBitesAndBlooms), I have multiple books on the go at any one time. This way, if I’m suddenly presented with an unexpected window of time, it’s easy to pull out my iPad and read a few chapters of whichever book I feel like. Magic!
A big plus a few years ago, when Fifty Shades of Grey was all the rage, is the ability to conceal the text you’re reading. Nothing worse than facing the (real or imagined) judgment of your fellow commuters.
And finally, speaking of weighty tomes, literally the weight of big books such as Outlander, War and Peace, The Stand, or Lord of the Rings, is gone with an e-book. These books are reduced to the weight of some plastic, glass and some electronic bits and bobs. Much easier to handle.
So, really, there is a strong case for the e-book.
I admit, it’s not all chocolates and flowers. You can’t give an e-book to a friend, the way you would a hardcopy book. This saddens me. I love passing books on to friends, with the firm assurance, ‘You’ll LOVE this one’. Also, the act of reading is different. Feeling the pages turn and feeling myself making progress through the hardcopy book was part of the reading experience that is gone, or poorly replicated with the sliding meter at the bottom of the page. And you always need to keep your iPad or Kindle charged. You don’t need to worry about the batteries in your hardcover book going flat. Probably another sad implication is the gift giving element – it’s lovely to give (and receive) a book at Christmas or for a birthday. It’s much less lovely to receive a book e-gift card.
But, all in all, it’s time to make the change. It’s difficult and I’ve been waging this internal war for many, many years. Probably more than a decade, I’d say, ever since e-books became a thing. But I’m now at peace with this decision.
I’ll still keep some of my most valued treasures, restricted to one shelf. I could never part with Stephen King’s On Writing, or Jessica Brody’s Save The Cat! Writes A Novel… but most of the rest will go.
What do you think? Still a hardcopy book lover? Moved to e-books years ago? Or (like me) have been doing half and half for a while? Leave a comment below.