Everyone loves to hold a good book, said a friend. I was telling her about a book I have just finished reading. It has a long title, which saves me having to tell you too much about its contents.
The book is called "What we talk about when we talk about books: The history and future of reading."
It is written by Leah Price, a professor of English literature at Harvard University in Boston, USA.
The book opens with statistics which negate widespread beliefs that people are reading less, that the golden age of books has past, that time spent reading posts and tweets and viewing photos and videos on smart devices means less time for reading books.
Price says none of these is backed by evidence.
In fact, book sales - in both full-paper and e-book formats - are on the rise in America. Some bookshops are closing, sure, but the closures are caused by online purchasing, not by people reading fewer books.
I'm a good case study. I read Leah Price's book via an app on my smartphone. I am writing this column using a digital smart pen. I mainly access my university library through its web portal and download reading material, rather than visit the library in person and leave with a book in my backpack.
Newspapers were predicted to be the end of the book, then television; but the book survives. The reason, says Price, is that the book is more than a way to access something to read
But this electronic activity doesn't mean I don't buy and read actual books. I have shelves of professional books in my office at work. We have floor-to-ceiling shelves of books at home, even after culling aggressively twice in recent years. We buy new books frequently, and enjoy the careful selection of new books for family and friends on birthdays and at Christmas.
What is it about actual books? Leah Price challenges her students to understand books as something more than pages of text. Each book has its own smell. Some carry personal inscriptions. Old books display coffee and wine stains. Spines get cracked, margins written in, sentences underlined. Inside a book you might find a bookmark left in place, private notes carefully hidden but forgotten, folded money even.
Price blindfolds her students and asks them to guess the names of books she pulls from familiar shelves in the university library.
I blindfolded my beloved the other night, placing books onto her lap from her kitchen library of 15 cook books. She guessed six from six before I gave up. She felt each one for something distinctive, its dimensions, its worn edges, whether it was cluttered with cuttings, and its distinctive smell.
It reminded me of a former colleague at the University of Newcastle who fanned the pages of any new book that entered the geography building, savouring its smell for an obscene length of time. So the book is more than printed words.
Not surprisingly, then, says Price, sales are declining for electronic devices that attempt to directly replace the book, like Amazon's Kindle e-reader. Many people like e-books but they are happy to read them on laptops, phones and tablets. The point, says Price, is that technology is shaping the way we access published materials, but this doesn't mean the death of the book.
Newspapers were predicted to be the end of the book, then television; but the book survives.
The reason, says Price, is that the book is more than a way to access something to read.
The book is a very social and personal thing.
A book comes into our possession because of the interactions through which we get our hands on it, says Price, the recommendation from a friend, a review in the newspaper, the feel of this thing in our hands as we unwrap a present, the scrutiny of a shelf in a library or book store.
Then the book is a world the author takes us to, lounging in a chair, upright and attentive at a kitchen table, or tucked into bed.
Then it is the companion that sits with us on the shelf, corners of pages turned, margins inscribed, positioned with its companions according to a plan only you understand, a physical record of where you have been in your life so far, who you have become, and a map for where you are headed.
Phillip O'Neill is professor of economic geography at Western Sydney University.
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