A second hand book shop closed down today.
I have nothing against Kindles. I know people always say “I have nothing against…” moments before they launch into an angry and bitter monologue…. but, I mean it. The most important thing is the story itself – that stories are still being read and told with absolute freedom and that, ultimately, the story lives on in the mind of the reader. The paraphernalia that surrounds the whole art of storytelling – libraries, book stores, cloth covers, ink, paper, reading chairs, illustrations, book marks, craftsmanship and leather … it is all a beautiful luxury, and one we can, if we had to, live without – but it is a luxury I am happy exists, and has been so easy to indulge in.
Kindles make literature accessible in an incredible way – you can hold an entire library within your hand; get a book you want in an instant and cheaply. But… I love book shops, and I am more than happy to suffer the inconvenience of only getting one book at a time, of hunting around for a copy in book shop after book shop, of carrying a book about with me despite its weight and size and then, afterwards, to have it take up space in my room. The actual, physical presence of a book and the rituals surrounding acquiring a book is one of life’s little joys.
Second hand book shops are jumbled, musty, autumnal smelling places; and finding a specific book that you want is often difficult – which is why second hand book stores are more about finding the book you didn’t even know you wanted. You browse shelf after laden shelf in a sort of soft trance, and then, quite suddenly and inexplicably you’re drawn to a book you know little or nothing about. Then, as you hold it in your hands, you know that you cannot leave without it. Second hand book shops aren’t just a place to buy a book in, either… they are an experience, just like an aquarium or a museum, they are a place to walk around in and be stimulated by. Their atmosphere is enchanting. Walking out of a book store book-less, but full of new thoughts, is a pleasure in itself. Libraries, too, are such reverentially silent places that seem at times more spiritual than the inside of the most splendid of cathedrals. In a library all of mankind surrounds you and sits hibernating, folded away and waiting to be discovered. Libraries and second hand book stores are the curiosity shops of words, and I hope they survive.
Also, a book has a life of its own, and the books that I have come to love are almost, in a way, my companions. Some of my books are coffee stained and haggard because they have been on a rough journey across the world. They hold wrappers of foreign sweets, postcards, leaves, train tickets and hastily written notes in the margins. To pick up a book from your own book shelf is to have your memories triggered of where you were when you read it, what you saw as you peeped over the top of the book to meditate on a turn of phrase, what food you picked at absentmindedly as your mind devoured sentence after delectable sentence. I have an old, large copy of the Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake and every time I look at it I am instantly taken back to being 16, sitting on the comfortable brown couch at my Dads house, watching the rain hit the leaves of the Japanese maple just outside of the window. There is also that enormous sense of excitement you feel at seeing all the pages that you are yet to read on the right hand side of a book, waiting… and how, very slowly, like wave after wave they become pages you have read, and come to rest on the left hand side of the book . Not to mention the little, sharp pain that you feel when you see that there are only a few pages that separate you from finishing a story.
Bookshelves grows as we grow, and, in the same way that a child delights in seeing their burgeoning height notched into a doorway with each passing year, so each new book upon your shelf is a sort of horizontal chart of your mental growth, and the life you have lived. I don’t want to lose that.