I still have a dictionary that belonged to my grandfather. He died more than 25 years ago, the pages are thin and silky and the spine is holding on for dear life and ….and here is the most important thing....it still smells of him. No, that's not right, it doesn't smell of him, but it has a smell that reminds me of him. In a Proust moment, when I hold the pages to my face – I can remember my grandfather. I can't remember his voice, but I can remember what he said and I remember his face - his being. There is an inscription on the front page – in my grandfather's handwriting – I look at this elegant, old-fashioned script and I see his hand writing it: it's a moment from his time here on earth and apart from my fading memories and a few dog-eared photographs, it is the only thing I have left of him.
So.. this is a treasure to me which goes far beyond the mere contents of its pages – it's no longer just a reference book to be used when I get stuck trying to spell
A Kindle, e-reader or ipad can never hold this history. It is a convenience without a soul. Granted it provides an immediate library that meets our ever-increasing need for ease and speed – but are we losing something in the process? The tangibility, the connection of organics – the fingertips and the leaves of a book and the personal significance it may hold – soon, the only thing we will touch will be the centimetre squares of the keyboard or the cold sleekness of the screen – there will be no significance, no sentiment, only a harsh provision of our needs.
I don't know if this will be a good thing for the future – I appreciate you cannot stand in the way of progress – look what happened to vinyl (OK, I know... I still have all my Simon & Garfunkel LPs in a box under the bed), and the paper used to make books destroys trees which is not so green; but what happens to these machines when they are discarded? The iPad was upgraded after only 11 months; is a landfill site full of electronic rejects any better?
So what to do? An e-book reader or not? At the moment I feel there is a place for both and I hope it stays that way for I would hate to see the actual paper version replaced entirely. But I do still love my books, even though they take up so much room in the house and they weigh down my handbag as I lug them to the coffee shop. Maybe I will come round to total electronic reading when Steve Jobs can produce a magical combination of convenience with a human touch and a pad that can hold my grandfather's signature (in ink – not a synthetic facsimile, mind) and a piece of my history.
"When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered· the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls· bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory" -Marcel Proust "The Remembrance of Things