Why I prefer physical books….

I know I have touched upon this before in a previous post, but one of the things that I came away with from FantasyCon (apart from a mini-library that is) is an even deeper appreciation of the humble print book. During the weekend I came across two independent presses in particular (Raymond Russell’s Tartarus Press and Nicholas Royle’s Nightjar Press) that confirmed my abiding love of the physical object that is the printed volume, a reciprocated appreciation that something like a Kindle can’t give you. These two presses are at the extreme ends of the format spectrum – Nightjar specialise in limited-edition chapbooks, whilst Tartarus go for the sewn and lithographically-printed hardback, complete with dustjacket and silk ribbon marker. However, there is one thing that they both share in common: high quality.

Tartarus Press’ books just reek of quality. You only need to pick one up and handle it to find that out. The dustjackets are plain, with title, author and a small graphic on the front. Remove that wrapper, however, and you’ll find decorated boards, high-quality binding and beautifully-printed interiors – not showy, but understated and restrained. Looking through their catalogue, it’s full of books by both new writers (like Angela Slatter and Simon Strantzas) and classic authors, like Ambrose Bierce, Guy de Maupassant, Walter de la Mare, Washington Irving and Lafcadio Hearn. If nothing else, these writers deserve, and get, such fine treatment.

To some, the Nightjar chapbooks may seem flimsy, containing as they do just the single story, printed in less than twenty pages, but look beyond that superficial impression and it’s immediately obvious that, no less so than the Tartarus books, quality veritably oozes out of them in buckets (to use a vulgar expression). It’s an attribute that’s plainly obvious in the stories themselves, more than that it’s also evident in the design work of John Oakey, with their simple (but highly effective) covers and clear layout. Additionally, the printing is clean and crisp, a fine advertisement for Reeds Printers of Cumbria. Plus they’re infrequently issued, coming out every six months or so, which means that Mr. Royle is extremely picky about what gets put out there. Furthermore, you get the assurance that a lot of care and attention to detail has gone into each and every release.

What I am getting at here is that I can handle the books, turn them over in my hands, smell them and touch them. I can’t do that with a Kindle, for instance – to me, it’s just a plastic box with a screen with thousands of digitised books stored within. No tactility, no smell and no texture. Just dead plastic. I know that the ebook market is currently assuming greater importance within the publishing industry, especially as it’s very advantageous to the writer – I would be a fool if I thought otherwise, being a writer myself. They’re also cheaper, even taking the cost of the e-reader into account, certainly over the long term. Add in to the equation the fact that they are also a wonderful way of transporting all your favourite books without the hassle of having to carry them. Definitely good for people on the go.

But e-readers are not for me – I guess I am just an old romantic at heart. I love the whole ritual of reading a book – getting it down from the shelf, opening it, getting a waft of the aroma of paper and then sitting down to delve into the worlds of the author’s imagination. I guess I interact with a physical book in a deeper way than I would do with an electronic device, even if it was the same book. It’s the total package, as far as I am concerned, that gets me excited – from the cover design to the story and the actual object itself. A set of bits and bytes, no matter how convenient, just doesn’t do the same for me. I will admit, putting my reviewer’s hat on for a moment, that PDFs are sometimes a convenient way of reading a book quickly for a write-up, but even then I prefer the actually thing itself – that’s much more to my liking.

I wonder if it’s a generational thing? My dad loved books, and passed that on to me. Maybe, just maybe, the new electronic devices are going some way in encouraging more youngsters to read for pleasure. And in years to come maybe THEY’LL be saying exactly the same thing about Kindles (compared to whatever device will be available then) as I am saying about books. Who knows?

For my part, I am nailing my colours firmly to the mast and sticking with old-fashioned books.

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2 Responses to “Why I prefer physical books….”

  1. There is something really special about the real book – I grew up with bookshelves all around, my fav was The Ancient Mariner, a limited edition folio print… stunning… funny you should re visit this though Moon, I have the Aldiko ebook application on my new phone. I have tried and honestly its just not suitable for reading. However I have found one benefit, I can search for free books, and check them out prior to buying the real version. Means I have a wider catchment when searching for my next read. No doubt not working as intended but still!

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