A paper book is not a dead tree: it’s a living thing. Each page whispers as it turns. Books absorb smells. The Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth I bought in India still smells of the mango pickle that came in the same suitcase. The Bhagawad Gita I picked up at the ashram smells of incense. Book have long memories. A dog-earned page will open willingly to your touch. Set a book open on its belly and the page will remember your forgetfulness. My copy of Empire Falls still chides me with its curled up pages from the time I left it out in the rain.
I love used books. They carry the territorial markings of a previous owner. A coffee spill. A pressed autumn leaf. A single blond hair. Often I find slips with scribbled phone numbers, boarding passes, business cards, grocery lists (why is it predictable for someone who reads Jhumpa Lahiri to have Hummus and Pita bread on her shopping list?) Sometime a person will leave an actual bookmark inside. Once I found a commemorative bookmark for a two-year old baby girl who had died. It just broke my heart to see her little face. I used that bookmark to read Map of the World which is about a child who drowns. Later, when I donated the book to our local library I left the bookmark inside, thinking maybe it would touch another as it had touched me.
I hate mindless highlighting and copious notes but tiny sribbles inside book pages intrigue me. I have a very old copy of the I-CHING with Heikki Nylund, Kalkata 1964 written in black fountain pen. The name sounds Finnish. I also bought an Amazon “like new” copy of The Great Gatsby. with the inscription “Marla, I look in Gatsby’s heart and see mine. Ever yours, EM.” Evidentally Marla did not care because the book is brand new. Or maybe Marla died. Maybe they both died. Romeo and Juliet. Such useless imaginings tend to eat up my day but I can’t seem to help myself.
Ah and covers….I pause in my reading to turn back to look at them. I love the cover of Angela’s Ashes. The wee boy in his threadbare clothes– so poor but with such a cheeky attitude. It warms the cockles of my heart (If you want to know what “cockles” mean – here is your trivia for the day. Go on, get sidetracked and waste more time than you are doing so already).
Book publishing is in fast-food mode. Novels are now cheaply processed and readily available. Readers are snackers and nibblers: a taste of this and a wiff of that. There is lots of unhealthy consumption, poor digestion and tons of waste. I am not sure this is doing us a whole lot of good. In an excellent article The Slow Books Manifesto on The Atlantic, writer Maura Kelly says, “In our leisure moments, whenever we have down time, we should turn to literature—to works that took some time to write and will take some time to read, but will also stay with us longer than anything else. “
So what happens in the era of Kindle? Will bookshelves become redundant furniture like the old roll-top writing desk. Will bookmarks become quaint collectibles? How will we hand-inscribe our favorite book to someone we love? What about those exquisite books – the kind you want to run your fingers over and kiss, simply because they are so beautiful. Books are tactile: some covers have a bumpy emboss while others feel like satin. What about rough deckle-edged pages, stylish French flaps and pages with a real papery smell? Am I the only one still craving beautiful paper books? I leave you with this excellent TED TALK by Knopf book designer Chip Kidd. He echoes my thoughts. Won’t you share your thoughts, please?
_______________________________________________Teatime for the Firefly is my debut novel. It is a love story set in a remote tea plantation in Assam, India. You can read the SYNOPSIS and the FIRST CHAPTER by clicking on the red links. I am represented by April Eberhardt Literary.