My reading habit is barely under control – I guess I’m a functioning book addict. For years I deluded myself that, somehow, the house would expand to accommodate the growing book collection and that my shrinking income would cover the book-buying sprees without economies needed elsewhere.
That’s how it might have continued to my demise, if something truly horrible hadn’t happened. Rot set in, literally, in every sense.
While I was contentedly reading or working at my computer, an alternative world was born and spread rapidly from the corner where books were most densely packed. That corner was a meeting place of the four drivers of my apocalypse. Not horsemen, these microbes needed only the right conditions to move along at an amazing speed. Their names are: Rising Damp, who came from a leaking water mains under the floor and a cracked downpipe on the outside wall (beautifully covered by a lush creeper); Dry Rot who flew in and found a promised land, closely followed by Wet Rot. Together these three begot Mould (or Mold to Americans).
Wholly ignorant of this evil fungal empire I read on – until the day I needed a book, double-stacked at the back in That Corner. I pushed my hand in to take the book but it wouldn’t budge and my fingers were now … sticky. I pulled the front row of books out and had the first sighting of the horror. The whole back row had solidified into one slimy lump of mould.
If you can consider mould objectively, without the urge to throw up, scream, weep or have hysterics, it is an amazing organism – even beautiful with its sheen of delicate colour and gossamer surface. And, of course, it’s not evil as such, there’s no intent to destroy my world, it simply does what it’s so efficiently evolved to do.
After that first revelation my library was doomed. Not all books, but a large majority, had to go. With the books went all the built-in shelves, one window, the whole floor (including joists) and plaster off the walls.
Never again will I have a wall-to-wall carpet or tightly stacked bookshelves but that’s not enough, I must not to have so many books – especially since the specialist damp treatment didn’t come cheap so budgeting is necessary.
Enter the e-reader. The plan was to acquire in hard copy ONLY the books that are for keeping and e-read the books which, I hope, will keep me informed about new trends and directions. Since e-books are a little cheaper than paperbacks, my budget would also benefit.
It sort of works. I don’t feel so bad about a disappointing book when I’ve spent only a couple of pounds on it. But with e-books the reading experience is lacking in one crucial respect: the physical book is absent.
For me, books are not only the words on a page. While I’m reading, the volume in my hand becomes part of the encounter; it reminds me throughout what I’m reading. The look of the book, especially the cover, becomes a reminder of its contents. Later, when I try to recall a book, it’s easier if I can visualize it. With an e-reader there is nothing to vizualise, nothing on the screen to remind which book I’m reading. My habit of having several books on the go at the same time makes the situation worse.
My familiarization with a book starts even before the first line. When I pick up a volume I look at the cover before checking the back for some hints what the book is about. I look at the publishing history – the year, the publisher, any editions and the previous titles by the author. All these nuggets of information help me to place the book in context. With and e-reader I’m pushed straight to page one. It’s a blind date.
But the e-reader has one strong ace up its plastic sleeve: it does not attract mould.