Yesterday I bought a book. A real book!
It’s a secondhand copy of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. It once belonged to a fellow named Charlton, who used a black marker to print his name inside the front cover. The book also bears the stamp of the Fossil Ridge High School Library.
A quick search tells me that Fossil Ridge High School is in Fort Collins, north of Denver, Colorado. I may never know how this slightly ragged little paperback made the 2,000km journey from Fort Collins to San Francisco.
Imagining a book’s history, its previous owners and the journeys it has taken, is one of the romantic benefits of a real book. Real books have a certain smell and there is a satisfying feeling to snapping a book shut when you’ve finished reading that final sentence.
Real books can also be shared, passed on to friends or sold to a second-hand bookstore so that a stranger may one day benefit from their wisdom. They make great gifts—providing many more hours of enjoyment than a bottle of wine (unless you are a very slow drinker).
That is not to diminish the benefits e-books. To take six e-books on holiday (sorry, vacation) you don’t have to sacrifice most of your suitcase space. It’s easy to highlight a wonderful passage in an e-book without feeling like you are committing sacrilege. When moving countries, you can easily take your entire e-book collection with you.
But you can’t see, touch, smell or be surrounded by e-books. When I was young, I always imagined that I would grow up to have a very grand library. It would have one of those sliding wooden ladders you see in movies, which I would climb in order to reach the top shelves.
Of course, I didn’t anticipate how mobile my grown up life would be. I have given away or sold all of my real books on at least five separate occasions. Thanks to globalisation and the conveniences of e-books, it looks like my dream of a giant library will never come to pass.
Nevertheless I am excited to be in possession of my first real novel here in San Francisco. Perhaps a more modest little bookshelf will do. With San Francisco rents the way they are, I could never afford to have my own library anyway. Thanks Charlton, for passing on your Hemingway to that strange little bookstore. And thanks Fossil Ridge High School Library for buying it in the first place.
Photo credit: A Pretty Book.