Who needs books?

A new book arrived for me in the post today, and this is an occurrence about which I am unreasonably excited. Every afternoon for the past few days I have made my way home from work and opened the front door with a sense of hopeful anticipation, looking around for a parcel I knew would be there soon. (Every afternoon except Sunday, of course.)


. . . image belongs to Warner Bros. no copyright infringement intended . . .

Now this book is a book of which I already own a digital copy. So why did I feel compelled to buy it in good old-fashioned paperback? I have no business buying new books. The shelving situation in my current shared house is totally inadequate to support my habit. Piles of books sit on top of each neat row, filling every available space up to the ceiling. And that doesn’t even account for the pile of books currently lurking on my nightstand waiting to be read.

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I don’t even get through books that quickly, partly because I have around five on the go at any given moment, and partly because my life leaves little time to read for fun. So why do I keep buying books?

I read an interesting discussion recently about the ways in which traditional book snobbery at the expense of the e-reader discriminates against the poor, the young, and anyone likely to have to move house suddenly or often. And I can see the sense in that. As for myself however, I cannot afford the financial outlay for an e-reader, but I can afford a free library card and the occasional new book.*

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a book snob. Although I do think that there are some books that are better read in hard copy. Anything where you have to flip back and forth, for starters. Ultimately I think it comes down to personal preference. Digital books are perfect for some people. They are portable and practical and an excellent invention. Personally I prefer to own books in print. It isn’t just how I prefer to read, or a refusal to spend in order to save. Books are one of my luxuries. I enjoy reading books, and looking at books, and surrounding myself with books. (Sometimes quite literally. When I was still at university I used to accumulate piles of books for my latest essay all round the edges of my bed, leaving a small space in the middle for me to sleep.) Books are art.


Obviously I don’t own anything as beautiful as this miniature fourteenth century Book of Hours housed at The Cloisters museum in New York City, but you get my point.

Of course they are not just objets d’art. Books are far more important that that. The knowledge they contain is truly incredible, and those of us who have access to that knowledge have been given a source of power denied to even the upper echelons of society for most of history. When that Book of Hours was written (painstakingly by hand), very few people would have known how to read. Even those who could read would have had to content themselves with the Bible, and maybe one or two other volumes if they were lucky. By contrast, the information and the diversions available to us today are seemingly boundless.

I would contend that we all need books. And it doesn’t really matter whether they are digital or print. But for what it’s worth, I don’t think the paper version will be disappearing any time soon.

*For those of you who noticed the discrepancy, the digital copy of the book in question is just stored on my computer. It is perfectly readable in that form, but not altogether convenient.