Books are heavy old things. Chunky and impractical, a real hassle if you have a lot of them. At one stage I was travelling with a separate bag for books, half of which I probably didn't end up reading. Different volumes I'd picked up from book-swaps, charity shops and second-hand bookstores. I could have reduced that cumbersome load into one sleek device that weighs less than a single volume and comes with the added bonus that I wouldn't need to spend hours sifting through the back aisles of dusty book shops. I could just type the name into a server and from the infinite, online library my desired reading would appear from thin air like magic. To me that sounds awful.
I lament for the generation that will grow up without books. They'll never dog ear a book and put it under their pillow. They won't develop a love for a copy, share it with their friends, spill drinks on it, rip pages then put it on a shelf and some day take it down and read it again, only to find a deeper meaning in the pages having matured since the last time they read it. They won't some day pass the battered old book onto their kids or onto a person they meet who might find some meaning of their own in it. It may sound like I'm just a major book-worm but that's because I am. I have a passion for books, not just reading but the physical item in itself.
I love the pursuit of a book. Perusing the selection of a bookshop, running my finger along the spines and looking at the artwork and the blurbs. Judging every book by its cover. It's something to do alone, become absorbed in the task, every bookshop has a gem in the dirt for you. Just enjoy the dig. It's even better with a good friend, split up and look on different shelves, pull books down for each other, show them one you read and tell them your story with the book, it might inspire them to read it and have their own story with it.
Every book takes on a story of it's own. It may be the book you took with you on holidays or the book you looked up from to catch the eye of a prospective lover. I remember reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on a night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I was absorbed in the misadventures as I lay in my bed on the train trundling through Thailand. I remember getting to page 60 when the story stopped making sense. The sentence became a mismatch and I couldn't understand why, I remember being so involved in the story that when this happened I felt as though I had been sprinting and suddenly stumbled and fell on my face. I was suddenly on page 115. I had bought the copy from a little bookshop in Bangkok so my first thought was that it was simply a dud copy, I had been duped, not so much out of the 5 dollars that I paid but out of the story.
I was angry at the scamming fiend who'd played this trick on me until I turned the page, 114, again, 113. I ended up reading a section of the book backwards until it returned to being normal at page 116. It was an inconvenience but I remember that first copy of what's now one of my favourite books of all time. It's orange cover and amazing graphic illustrations by Ralph Steadman and most uniquely, it's backwards section. In Chiang Mai I passed it on to another traveller who I thought might appreciate it. I hope someone somewhere is reading that book and that they're reaching the infuriating point where the book goes backwards. It could still be in Thailand or it could have made it to Laos, Cambodia or some other strange place. Maybe some day it'll be taken on a plane overseas and it might even find its way back to it's spiritual home in Nevada.
Books have taken on a new significance for me since I started travelling when such a premium is placed on space and weight. For me it's worth carting a small library around for the memories attached to the books I've read and the potential for magic in the ones I haven't. I love to buy them and read them and give them away, they're great things to share and that's what the Kindles and eBooks are doing away with. A recommendation is good, but you can't convince a dedicated bookworm like myself that a tattered old volume with a hand-written message in the cover isn't far better.