On Book Porn

Of late, I’ve been having a sneaking suspicion that I like books more than I like reading. I hope it is isn’t true, for this will expose me for the shallow, superficial person I don’t want to let the world know I am. If it is, though, I can live with it and revel in the sensual joys of books, as I inch my way down my enormous reading pile that has enough in it for a lifetime.

The moment you push the door of a bookstore open, you step right into Paradise. The fragrance of paper assails you; your eyes are treated to an unholy mix of variegated spines and stack upon stack of books. The older they are, the better. Fingered, mottled, stained, inscribed, gashed, underlined: what is not to love about old books? New books are fresh, clean and pleasant to hold and to read, but old ones are seeped in the warmth (or coldness) of people who have already read them and given them away for mysterious reasons. It isn’t easy to give away a book: it took me a great deal of valour, and some tears, to tear myself apart from my copy of Kafka on the Shore, so I could give it to a friend who had a long train journey ahead of him and nothing to read. Books that are handed down are imbued with the personalities of past owners; it is up to you to puzzle them out as you read words that have already been perused by some strangers in the very copy you’re holding. Did they feel a similar thrill when they read that particularly enchanting sentence, and did they run for the dictionary to look up that Latin phrase? It could only have been a fit of perversity that made Irma give away Aunt Minnie’s wonderful present, a 1944 first edition of AJ Cronin’s The Green Years.

Isn’t it wonderful how embossed letters and pictures just leap out at you from the covers of books, begging to be possessed and coveted? My sparse bookshelf here is a source of pride and joy, even if I read barely a page a day; the textbooks have their own nooks, because somehow “never the twain shall meet”. Names, colours, textures, fragrances- these are such important entities in a book, new or old. The cover of my copy of Mister Pip (incidentally bought at a 3 for $10 sale)- a solitary open book on a secluded beach, against the backdrop of blue sky and tranquil sea- vindicates my obsession. I respect writers who manage to shout down the designers of vulgar book jackets whose aim is instant gratification. Whatever happened to subtle, appealing and minimally substantial? Colours are good when they don’t cater to stereotypes and put you off a book whose blurb actually interests you. Call me superficial, but I’ve often picked up a book and put it back on the shelf because the cover design didn’t appeal to me, and preferred to wait until a more satisfying copy was available.

I could go on for a while, lobbying for the rights of writers to defy stereotypes and have the covers they choose, but with ebooks looking to topple the printing applecart, will book-fetishizers like me have to content themselves with whatever publishers can rustle up, thanks to rising prices and bookstores shutting shop? I’m only glad Gutenberg didn’t live to see this day (and it is ironic that Project Gutenberg helps promote reading online, and hurrah for them); ebooks are all well in their place, but they can simply not replace the pleasure of a real, physical book, paper and ink, body and soul.

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2 thoughts on “On Book Porn

  1. Hey – I came across youir blog entirely by accident while browsing Guardian books. I have to say, loved this entry of yours – I could totally relate to a lot of the emotions wrt books that you have mentioned here. Bookshops as paradise – hell yea, I’ve felt that! 🙂

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