I love books, especially second hand ones. Take me to any charity bookstore and I will take a big breath in as I gaze in wonder at the loot around me. I could spend hours and a lot of money in those places (which I have, many times).
Ask my mum about the time I ran up to her in our local shopping village, distraught and begging for $5. “What for?” she asked, confused.
“To pay my late fees at the library, because otherwise I can’t borrow any more!”
I would go home with my bag of books for that week, jump length-ways on my bed and delve into those worn pages. At dinnertime I would have to tear myself away. Those were my favourite nights – buried in a good book.
In the past couple of years e-readers have broken into the market and are rapidly replacing books all over London. I have despised them from the start. They are so practical, the books are cheap, I just love mine, the converts would tell me. And I would doubt and dismiss them because, simply put, they weren’t real books. They didn’t have the charm of dog-eared corners and ancient scent. I was going to have a library in my house one day and no e-reader would steal that dream.
Then I looked at the books on my shelf that I was so proud of. Some really good ones, others unfinished because they were rubbish, and a load of them unread. They’re not literary classics or collectors items, just a random selection of novels that I loved or didn’t. Essentially, I have a bunch of books in my bedroom in this city that I don’t plan on staying in. More than anything, those books are a future expense and setback to my plans of long-term travelling and relocating back to New Zealand.
But maybe the real truth of it is that I’m holding onto them because they’re all I have. Since I’ve left New Zealand, paintings that my best friend gave me have disappeared and the beautiful set of journals that I was saving are gone. Lost. I don’t know where and neither does my family. Yes, these are special things. But I’m learning to let go because life isn’t about holding on to the past.
I’m starting to accept that after moving countries twice in the last four years and moving house in London a bunch of times, that I don’t own much anymore. I have some nice keepsakes from travelling, but no furniture or big items. Enough to pack up in a couple of suitcases and move again.
Except for those books, which I can’t take with me. It isn’t even about the books. It’s that they represent my journey as a reader, as a collector, as a human being who needs the comfort of things sometimes. They are things that have made my temporary bedrooms home.
The other side of this struggle is embracing technology and how it’s changing our everyday life. Everything is better and faster, but it means less snail mail, journals and paperback books. Less of these beautiful things and more digital words that can be erased in a second.
When I’m travelling and want to take notes, it takes more discipline to stop and handwrite it in my travel journal instead of on my iPhone notebook. I don’t own a point-and-shoot camera, just a big DSLR for artistic/travel photography, because my iPhone takes great pictures of my day-to-day life. CDs? I’ve forgotten what they look like thanks to iTunes.
There is always an easier and faster option. Do we accept it and say goodbye to an era, or stretch out the inevitable and refuse to transition? This is how I am feeling about books and technology and laying roots and the lack of things in my life.
I’ll get an e-reader soon, and I will give away most of the books on my shelf. I will keep a few special favourites but the rest will go, and I will grieve. For the things and the home and the roots that I don’t have. That I will have to pick up and leave again. This city that I love but isn’t home, because it’s just too far away from the people that make home, home.
The world is changing, books are dying and I am letting go of things. And though books will be around for a while yet, I won’t have a library just for the sake of it. I will have a special wee shelf with the best of the best, in my home that I have created, and that will be enough.
After all, e-reader’s are so practical, the books are cheap and I will probably love mine.
How do you feel about e-readers and the future of technology? Have you held on to things for comfort reasons? Leave a comment.