Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Books And Bookshops Revisited

After my post a few days ago on the loss of bookstores there were quite a few comments which raised issues which have prompted me to another post.  Books are such an essential part of our lives that this is one subject that affects almost all of us one way or another.

One of the points was the ability to collect books.  CJ (aka Scriptor Senex for anyone new reading this blog) is a collector of many things from beer mats in his Uni days to photos of  postboxes.  I remarked  to him a few years ago that I couldn't recall ever having an interest in collecting anything.  He looked at me and said something like "So that wall case of well over a thousand CDs and that wall of book case and the shelves in the loft don't merit being called a collection?"  That made me think.  I had never regarded CDs or books as collections.  They are just an integral part of my life.  However why do I keep all the CDs when all my music is on computer and although the entire collection is nearly 200Gb  most of the music I listen to and carry with me to New Zealand (where I have no CDs) can be stored on  the 120Gb of one little iPod.  Likewise my entire collection of books (leastways the ones that are in print) can be stored on computer and a reader like the iPad, Kindle or iRiver (which I'd not heard of until Yvonne mentioned it).

With CDs I like to look at them and choose what I want to play.  The other thing about them is that the quality of the sound using a CD and my hifi system is better than the sound straight from the computer or iPod even when fed into the hifi system.

With books the one common thing upon which we all seem to be agreed is that there is just 'something about' a book that one doesn't get in a Kindle.  Many of my books are reference books. A Kindle can be both useful and useless for reference books.  The basic ones which I use for birds and insects, for example, do not appear to be available on Kindle.  Even if they were then browsing through photographs for identification would, I imagine, be quite hard on a Kindle unless one knew the name one was looking for and used the search facility.   And a book of paintings  or photographs in large format will never be quite surpassed for browsing by a computer screen. - will it?  There is a discussion on the book versus Kindle topic at Beatties Book Blog.

I was in town this afternoon and popped into Beattie and Forbes:

It's pretty much like any other bookshop and it does have one huge advantage over Amazon which I think we all recognise too:  you can browse and find books you didn't know had been written on topics you may never have given a thought to.  I found one such book.

As I mentioned we also have a wonderful second-hand bookshop The Little Bookstore about which I've blogged and a Book Exchange which I passed today:

At the end of the day it's what we are happy with but I'll leave you with the words of Yvonne (la mujer libre) "What is it I like about my favourite books? Surely it's the words that the books contain - words that are ordered in a way that affects me. It's not the cover, nor the number of pages and etc..."


  1. I love second hand book shops but leave my money at home. Why are books so expensive in NZ?

  2. I think your title nails on one very important aspect of why we collect books (and CDs and DVDs) - the *revisiting*. I don't think you'll ever get quite the same feeling from a list of titles on the computer as looking at a shelf full of books you've collected over decades. Which makes me give second thought to the statement that the cover does not matter. It does. The same with the number of pages. Not as a measure of quality of content but it adds to our memories and reading experience. If I lost everything, I would not strive to immediately replace everything. I suspect it would be a gradual process to discover what I really missed most and why. There are some old LPs I've kept for their covers although for 20 years or more I've had no record player and I now have the music on CD or mp3.

  3. Despite my love of books - or perhaps because of it - I've just bought a Kindle and am awaiting its arrival. I've discovered that an awful lot of the books I want to read from the mid-Victorian era are simpky not available in book format any more. (Those that are can begin at £30 each for a 'very used' one).
    I'll let you know how I get on with it.

  4. Adrian: I have no idea why books are so expensive in NZ. The market is small relative to the UK and we are very remote from the UK where many books come from. That also puzzles me. Many books are printed in China and the Far East. We are nearer there than the UK is. Why are books not sent direct? Perhaps they are. If so why is carriage often quoted as a reason for the high prices?

  5. I don't know that I could ever be comfortable trading in my "paper in hand" for a computer screen, Graham. I LOVE book stores, libraries and the like; always I have! Nothing can replace the feeling of walking into a quiet place and the smell of paper books, the serenity of everyone being engaged into a story of their own.

    I looked at the Kindle thingy the other day when the boys and I were at Staples {a local office supply store} - - you know I like my electronics, but I had no desire for that thingy. Looking at them on commercial's, even, does nothing for me. It's not the same as turning a page in your hand...not for me.

    I can't get into the texting jazz either...my kids like to, but not me, so much :)

  6. Maybe it's my youth, but I love the Kindle. I would never buy (or even "rent" a lot of the classics) in page-form, but when they're only a few cents on the Kindle, I am delighted to read them. In the same way, many books I would never think of actually look at or purchasing at a book store seem interesting because of the way Kindle markets. I think "browsing" random books still exists, it just looks different.

    That being said, my favorite books are the ones that are not only a joy because of the words, but also precisely because of the "feel" of them. I have a small bookshelf of books I'll never get rid of, because the physical act of leafing through each of them is pure happiness.

    But for the hundreds (thousands!) of others I'll read in the next few years, I like the ease of the electronic version!

    (PS: Great post. Thought provoking.)

  7. Our local used book store has become pricey for some of their books. I miss our one independent bookstore that graced our environs for many years (3 generations of owners)! As I said before, the coziness and being recognized is something that Books-a-Million will never have as part of their store, even though there is a coffee shop in it.