It has to be said that second hand books are my favourite. The lives they’ve lead before they fall into my grubby little hands are written on the covers, the spine, the turned down pages, the smudged ink and the tell tale ketchup smear. Searching in charity shops and specialist book shops for long forgotten treasures that quicken the pulse when we hold them in our hands, drinking in the years they must have travelled. Not even waiting until we get home before we crack open our booty, devouring the words on the page, gorging ourselves until we are sated.
A book is a dangerous thing. It doesn’t seem all that dangerous sitting innocuously on its shelf, being ignored for the most part but when one catches a glimpse of its painted cover a thrill is transmitted electrically through the body, the breath catches and at once we are entranced. Our trembling fingers, outstretched, grasp delicately as we turn it over in our hands. Within its pages are ideas, knowledge, imagination, that when fused with our cerebral cortex open us up to the world, universes, strange lands, adventure, romance, we are able to see beyond our lives and into the lives of others. From the moment we learn to read, we are given a freedom of the mind, we start to question more intently the world around us, to ponder, to weigh up truths and logically or illogically come to our own conclusions. Books are dangerous because they are transmitters, they are viruses that replicate at an astonishing speed. During the Second World War we saw Nazi’s burning books because they knew the danger, the intellectuals and the middle classes murdered to stop the spread of ideas and very nearly, the creation of a new Dark age. Books are dangerous and I for one wouldn’t have it any other way.
I have a tactile relationship with books, I like the way they feel, the weight and the heft, the smell of the pages and the sound they make when I turn over a new leaf. They’ve been around for years. I have a student who restores books at Uniwersytet Mikolaja Kopernika and the other week she showed me some of the projects she’d worked on: Beautiful books from the 15th Century that were virtually destroyed and she had brought them back to life to be enjoyed by future generations. Traditional books are cool but what about ebooks?
Ebooks are the youthful usurper, flashy, sexy and very now. Sales of Kindles and other readers have gone through the roof as have the ebooks themselves, recently for the first time outselling their traditional counterpart. Is it the books themselves or the readers that have fuelled this sensation? It’s difficult to say, as more of our lives move online it seems like a natural progression to move from book to ebook. I can only talk about my own experience. I’m an Englishman living in Poland and the paucity of English language books is scary. When I’m able to track a few books down they tend to be several years old and chances are I’ve already read them and they are very expensive. I think i’d been here about two months when Apple released an ebook app on the iPod, my initial feelings of despondency evaporated instantly and I was able to download new books by my favourite authors. It took me a while to get used to reading on a small screen but now I have no trouble at all. I travel a lot for my job and this app has proved to be a godsend, whiling away the long, monotonous hours on Polish public transport with a book or two or three.
I embrace the future but i’m protective of the past and will mourn the day if they ever decide to do away with traditional books. Hopefully the two mediums can co-exist happily side by side like vinyl and CD’s and like vinyl, you can’t keep a good idea down.