Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Cheese - and Whine.

Hullo ma wee blog,

It's a bit daft really. I've got loads to do but done none of it today. I've spent the day mainly in the garden. Sure, I've justified it to myself by saying that I should make the most of the weather while its here and I have done some weeding and minor odds and sods around the garden but in reality most of the day has just been me goofing off, enjoying the sun and the fact that the grass - never a lawn - is looking good simply because its the shortest it's been for weeks, which hides a multitude of sins. In my delusional mode I call it 'organic' or 'natural' or even 'wildlife', but I'm fooling myself as its really none of those, even if it is teeming with well fed birds thanks to an intensive feeding program. I enjoy a garden but I'm not a gardener. So it's been me at the patio table, book and sunglasses to hand, the odd glass of dry white wine to help wash down some crusty bread, nicely juicy pears and a piece of lovely soft and slightly salty goats cheese barely drizzled with honey. My idea of a wee taste of the Languedoc in Scotland.


I've also caught up on a few blogs while the back of the house has been in shade this morning as I don't do squinting very well. I've read a bit as the sun has come round the house, forcing me to lay aside the laptop while I catch up on stuff I've been meaning to read but strangely for someone unemployed, who should have plenty of spare time on my hands, have not found time for.

While I've been doing that thoughts have been niggling away at me like unruly children, particularly about reading and books. A few bloggers I read have touched on the subject of bookish things over the internet lately, talking about the impact of the web on reading habits, the effect of on-line bookshops selling at knock down prices and the impact on 'real' bookshops and libraries. I've added the odd comment here or there, interested or curious, questioning or approving, all the time letting layers of content slowly build up a curmudgeonly niggling concern that, as with many other things, the world is changing and something that is important to me might be changing faster than I'm comfortable with and not in a direction I would choose.

It's particularly true of the technology around books, or more accurately reading, for what I see ahead is the potential disfigurement of reading as we know it. I wonder in twenty or thirty years if we will have books in any meaningful sense or will they be the domain of academia, dwindling numbers of bookshops, curiosity shops, reference libraries  and museums or the musty collections of crusty old men like me?  Will the availability of cheap books online actually reduce choice and the number of titles as these places promote the blockbuster and ignore the merely sublime. Will readers have lost contact with the reality of a book in the hand if books are simply story downloads to an i-pad reader or some other piece of technology which retail chains and publishing houses use as the opportunity to stop printing to reduce costs and maximise profits? How will we find those unexpected books if we cannot browse, can't pick them up and read the cover as we weigh the value of story and the weight of the authors effort if the book exists only online? With the increasing trend amongst kids towards talking books on i-pods for convenience, how will we create those characters to live in our minds and in our hearts if all we have is an actors interpretation being read to us? Will 'readers' question if the interpretation could be different or if the story is crippled by heavy handed abridging? Will books of the future simply be screenplays? Will we simply accept that Dracula or David Balfour or Jane Eyre have American voices attempting foreign accents?

Not that I can do anything about it of course. I can only be the curmudgeonly archetypal grumpy old man and note the change and comment.

When I was a child I loved libraries. Dad was a great reader and supporter of our local library and I too was bitten by the reading bug. As a teenager I was hit by asthma which meant I was often laid up. When that happened I read constantly, a stream of library books was supplied by Dad, not always to order but he would often pick up a wee gem for me. Like him, I became an avid and prodigious, if not altogether selective consumer of the written word. But I also became enthralled by books themselves; the hard-backed leather bound edition, the hard-backed paper sleeved novel, the cheapest paperback. I loved them all. I learned to love the feel of a book, the weight of it's mystery as it journeyed home with me in a bag strapped to my bike, or just hung from the handlebars, knees nudging the book as I pedalled; the smell of the pages as you cracked it open for the first time, old and musty perhaps if it had lain on the shelf for a long time or if it was elderly in itself; other scents, held by the pages, of the last reader, an old man who's fingers held the smell of pipe or cigarette tobacco or oil from machinery in their pores, a young woman who's delicate scent would perfume the pages for a short time. These things all spoke to me and evoked a feeling for the history of a book, almost as a living thing. I learned to love the heady smell that always seemed to be in a library. I loved the almost reverent hush of the place. The need to be quiet for once not an impossible task.

Over the years as I got older and more selective in subject matter, I began to covet books {shades of 'My Precious' ringing in my head now} that were special to me. I loved history books, books on art, religions, architecture. I loved the books of Stevenson and Scott, Ryder Haggard, Michener and so many others. I wanted to have space at home for more than an overstuffed bookcase. I wanted to have a library of my own. I succeeded when we bought this house.

 I've long enjoyed trawls of antiquarian bookshops and revelled in the atmosphere of ancient books, something which has become increasingly rarer as these places have gradually disappeared to be replaced with coffee shops, tanning studios and tattoo parlours. I've watched engrossed as an old bookseller, offered an old book, put it to his face and listened carefully as he softly rrrrrp'd the pages past his nose, caressed the pages lovingly and spoke in hushed tones about the quality of the paper, the way it had been made, the fact that although the paper was French the printing was English, the pages hand cut and rough edged. He waxed lyrical about the binding and the cover, it's absolute authenticity,the skill of the maker and about the healthy smell of its history and the lack of knocks and scrapes, folds and tears that showed it had been cared for through generations. Like being guided through a cathedral by a stone mason, he was a master of a craft that sadly seemed to be out of it's time.

I'm not exclusively interested in old books though. I've cheered myself with walks round the humongous racks of large chain bookstores and enjoyed the personal touch of informed, enthusiastic and well read staff in independent bookstores. I've gone looking for particular books and come out with treasures unexpectedly unearthed in my search through the shelves. I've collected the works of Rankine, Brookmyre and Banks and enjoyed Hiasson, Coelho and Cornwall.

I've often enjoyed a book at bedtime. Does it feel the same being read on an I-Pad? I've often dropped a book from the bedside table or from the corner of a chair. I've dropped one getting up from my seat on a plane or a train. The books have survived them all. I wonder an I-Pad would.?

Oh, and I've never had a book run out of battery power although a few have run out of steam.....

I now have a room I use as a library in my house. I spend a lot of time there enjoying the atmosphere and relaxing with a well read book or attracted by the brightness of a cover to something that suits my mood. Could I have the same fun scrolling through the list of titles on my reader?

I really hope I never find out.

see you later. I'm browsing the Edinburgh Book festival brochure wondering if I can afford to attend any more events this year.

Listening to;


Rebecca S. said...

Hullo Al,
Your post today is really wonderful and I am, as you know, asking many of the same questions of this world.
There is reason to hope because my thirteen year old daughter likes to pick up an older book, open it to the middle and sniff. She'll usually say, "Don't books smell great?" and then she'll shove it under my nose too.
I am a collector of books, too. Paperbacks, hard covers, children's classics, favourite series, etc. I haven't got a library yet, but the first thing my parents did after I moved out was to turn my bedroom into one.
A favourite treat of mine is our locally made caerphilly goat cheese, pears and dried cranberries...and a good read. I have ancestry in Scotland. Perhaps we are eighteenth cousins? Har har.

Alistair said...

Poor you if we ARE related - because I know how grumpy you are going to get!

Actually, when I read this back I wasn't entirely sure of it to be honest. I don't think I made the argument as succinctly as I thought I was. It's one of the problems with just writing off the cuff and hitting 'publish'.

I think it's a bit overstated and melodramatic about the worries over books and publishing. I'm sure there will be books but I do think that loss of libraries and bookstores will be a huge loss to our proper enjoyment of reading. I hope I never turn a virtual page....

thanks for the nice comment Rebecca.


lom said...

It just has to be a book, it's just not reading if you can't smell it, feel it, and turn a page

Unknown said...

You are a great read, even electronically. There is something we can do about it. Give a child a books. Teach them to love books as we do. If you don't have an impressionable child handy, donate to a local library.
I will admit to having a couple of e-books on my computer. Have you checked out
They make old manuscripts and out of print books unavailable. Great for research or fun.

Alistair said...

Hi Ladies,

Thanks for the comments.

Kat - I REALLY dont know if I want to have a look at the Gutenberg site. You have no idea how grumpy I get if I have to change my opinion!!!

Thanks all. lol

The Scudder said...

Police in Liverpool just announced the discovery of an arms cache of 2000 semi automatic rifles with 250,000 rounds of ammunition, 10 anti-tank missiles, 4 grenade launchers, 20 tonnes of heroin, £50 million in forged UK banknotes and 25 trafficked Ukrainian prostitutes all in a semi-detached house behind the Public Library in Toxteth.
Local residents were stunned.
A community spokesman said:
"We're shocked. We never knew we had a Library!"
Nice article Al ,, I'm back :-)

Alistair said...

Ha - nice one Scudder,

Welcome back.

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