While I wasn’t exactly reluctant to buy a Kindle, I was a little wary. I was one of the biblio conservatives when the rush first started happening – ‘you can’t kill books!’
You know what the basis of my argument was? The smell. I wouldn’t tell anybody this, but the true emotional centre of my plea for book’s survival was their smell. Readers everywhere have long fetishsised the glorious musky odour of an old volume. There is, surprisingly, no English word that is used for the sensation. Perhaps we can come up with one…
The smell comes with other things, however, it means you’re holding aphysical object, which by proxy means that you’ve physically entered a physical bookshop and had a physical interaction with a physical human being. This is a point that I will probably never yield: bookshops are marvelous and one of the few retail havens left that can ever be described as romantic. Try experiencing romance as you download a book from your office computer or phone. Yuck.
Have the experience of walking into Archives Fine Books, a huge second hand bookstore that I’ve visited (and my father visited) since we were both teenagers, and catch a hefty whiff of paradise. Or pop down to Riverbend on a bright Brisbane weekend and have a fresh coffee and flick through the latest offerings in natural sunlight. If you’re a Brisbane author or reader, then Avid Reader is your inevitable best friend, as it manages to straddle the divide between West End grotto and a place of bright wonder and intellectual mirth. Brisbane’s also blessed to be surrounded by exquisite genre stores like Comics Etc, Pulp Fiction or Rosemary’s Romance Books. What fun.
I visit these stores (and my local library) constantly, and will keep doing so.
If you’d asked me three or four years ago, I would’ve said that no digital experience could compare with ‘curling up’ with a good paperback. How can you ‘curl up’ with a bit of plastic?
I bought the Kindle when I was travelling. And let me tell you, the saving on luggage weight alone was worth the purchase while I was trekking around. But it was what happened after that I didn’t expect. While I kept going back to hard copies, I find myself consistently drifting towards the cheaper, lighter, more convenient e-book counterpart. Why? Because, friends, while it doesn’t smell, I’ve developed feelings for my e-reader. In the same way that you cherish a well worn paperback or hold a special place in your heart for a gently disintegrating hardcover, I’ve formed an emotional attachment to my e-reader. I curl up with it. I interact with it in a way that is markedly different to my phone, laptop, or gaming console. It evokes something from me. It did something I thought only a real book could – become a physical agent for an emotional experience.
Amazon reported last year that its e-books now out rank its physical sales. The market is only going to rise. However, to say this marks the death of the book is alarmist. It means there’s more pressure on the stores listed above to provide unique shopping experiences and communities that can’t be found online, something which all of them do. (Many also provide the ability to shop online also.) I can only hope we see more quirky book retail experiences blossoming that provide something that online can’t. Connection, the random act of browsing, and of course, the smell.
Dear God, the smell.
P.S. While researching this blog I found this, the smell of books – in a can! Yuck.