I collect books.
I rarely return home after visiting a new town or city without bringing back an armload of volumes. Even trips into Dunbar, five miles away, tend to see me return with books garnered from the local charity shops. I have a very small study, nine feet by seven (though when we move I’ll be getting a bigger place), and it’s crammed with bookshelves lining every wall and even on shelves placed at right angles to the walls, so that my writing area is hived off from the door; it’s more like a cockpit. And we have hundreds of books scattered around the rest of the house, belonging to me, to my wife – lots of hers are historical books and novels – and to my daughter.
I collect science fiction, and among the authors I concentrate on are Aldiss, Ballard, Baxter, Beckett, Cowper, Daventry, Kilworth, Lovegrove, McIntosh, Russo, Sellings, Shaw, Sheckley, Silverberg, Simak, Stableford, Vance, Wilson (Robert Charles). I also love and collect forgotten British authors from the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties: Rupert Croft-Cooke, Robin Maugham, Peter de Polnay, Miles, Tripp, James Wellard (though he’s Anglo-American), along with more contemporary scribes like Jonathan Coe, Geoff Nicholson, and Ethan Mordden. I also have a growing collection of travel books, and many volumes about India.
A friend once stood in the doorway of my study, looked around in stupefaction and said, “But you could have all these books on Kindle, and save the space…”
I tried to explain that, for me, books are more than just the intellectual ideas they contain. They’re more than the story, though that’s their primary delight. Subsidiary attractions are manifold: they’re often beautiful physical objects. Each tome has a history – a personal history for the individual reader – and a history in terms of publication that ties a book to a time and place. When I pull a book down from the shelf and leaf through it, a store of memories and association fly up from the volume. I’m taken back, not only to my recollection of the story itself, to the emotions and passions it engenders, but to where I was when I last read it, and even the mental state I was in at the time.
Then I’m interested in things which, to a non-book lover, might seem perverse, like the font of a certain book, its cover, its binding, its paper stock, the stitching of its spine, even – I admit – its bouquet.
The totality of a book, its physical presence as well as its ideative content, is far more important to me that a ‘book’ as a mere collection of bytes on a machine.
That’s why Kindles strike me as soulless and lacking everything that makes a book such a delight; for me Kindles, despite being light, convenient, great to take on holidays etc, will never replace the Book – and that’s why I’ll never purchase one.