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Friday, 20 November 2015

Jean Allen on the delights of real books

Having a discussion time with other authors is an excellent way to boost energy and to keep up with changes in our modern writing world. Recently our group's discussion time included ‘the drop in demand for books’. (‘Books’ meaning the old, solid type of book, with pages the reader can turn.) 
Today, business systems are in constant change – the selling and buying of books being but one aspect. Pure ‘Book Shops’ are rare now, most having reduced their book numbers and increased their stocks to include greeting cards, stationery, knickknacks, gifts and art supplies under the same roof. The cheapness of online bookstores, such as Amazon and The Book Depository, have reduced the sales of traditional books while television and the internet are vying for custom. In the late 1800s and the first half of the 20th century (before the advent of the microchip) we did not have such options.

This came home to me while browsing our home bookshelves last week.  I picked out a very old book of my father’s; a much used copy of Westward Ho, and felt myself whisked back one hundred years to a time when the famous Charles Kingsley wrote of action, adventure, love and solitude. My father would have been 16 years old in 1914. “I enjoyed that book,” he told me several times. “Read it often.” A hard working lad; he had written his name and his town in cursive letters in pen and ink. Books were treasures in his world.

 On that same shelf stand six books I have kept since my sixteenth year. The largest and most worn book is The Complete Works of William Shakespeare; a favourite book which I won in a writing competition in 1952. At sixteen, living our own generation, neither of us would have had the money to buy books. Books were few and highly prized. Both my father and I were avid readers and used the library to feed our love of reading. ‘Westward Ho' meant something special in my father’s world while Shakespeare opened a new world for me.

Progress, in my opinion, is ever a two-edged sword. I used to believe that time brings a balance to new inventions and ‘advancements’. Now I’m not so sure. In the cold world of supply and demand it’s ever ‘short supply - high price: over supply - low price’. Yet I can’t help but dream the magic of the paper book will win out … perhaps in the next generation? What do you think?

© Jean ‘Angel’ Allen, in reminiscent mood, mid-November 2015

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