Monday, February 15, 2010

Touchy – Feely!

No, as the title suggests this will not be the angst-ridden outpourings of a struggling novelist who appreciates this opportunity Pratham Books has given her. There will be no feelings running amok over the web page. Well, maybe just a little bit. But the title has more to do with things tactile, like for example the pages of a book.

This is something that has been playing on my mind for a few weeks now. What with Amazon’s Kindle and then Apple’s iPad hitting markets, quite a lot of people believe that it’s the end of books as we know it. Apparently, it’s going to be e-books all the way. Sure, scientifically speaking, books with paper pages cannot last forever and e-books do have a longer shelf life. But do they build the same kind of memories ordinary books do?

I would say no.

As an only child growing up in the Gulf, where my mum couldn’t ask me to go play outside for fear of me getting scorched, books were more or less my close companions. Heading to a Friday flea market with my dad to pick up well thumbed through second hand books was a weekly routine. From Enid Blyton to Roald Dahl and stories of chimney sweeps and children wanting a little more, they were all affectionately carried home to my bookshelf. After school I’d throw my school bag in the hallway and run to the shelf to select a book for my lunch reading. With my feet propped up on a chair, and my lunch in front of me, nose deep into my book, I would read. Though I tried many a time to carry the habit over into family meal times as well, my family was quick to draw the line. And so I found other places to read them. Under the bed covers with a torch, curled up on the floor, in the car as we went on long drives for weekend picnics and even in, I’m not ashamed to say this, even in the bathroom. I’ve long since realized that I cannot sleep unless I read at least a few lines of a book, be it on any subject.

And now along come, e-books! More popular now, than ever before and I’m forced to wonder whether they are really all that fun? How do you prop an e-book reader, whatever the brand with one hand and shovel food in with the other? How cozy is it to cuddle up with one? And I cannot imagine getting a drop of water on it, considering the amount I would have shelled out to get one!

But the most valid argument for me is purely sensory.

I love feeling the crispness of a book’s page between my fingers. I love smelling the freshness that jumps out when you buy a brand new book and the smell of having seen many a reader, in an old one. The yellowed crumbliness of an old book, the sticking your fingers through stuck together pages to free them in a new one, signing your name in bold across the front page in a new book and sometimes the quirky dedications you find in second-hand ones…

These are all part of the reading experience. Well, for me at least.

Will running a finger down a screen create the same memories?

Well, that’s something to ponder about.

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