Thursday, 5 March 2015

There can never be too many books

And so it is that World Book Day is upon us again – and almost gone, at the time of writing.

In an era where, increasingly, digital seems to dominate, it’s wonderful to think about books.

Yes, yes: I know that books can be digital too, but, to me – and many millions more – there is nothing to beat the tactile joy of a real book. Indeed, for billions of people on this planet, the old-fashioned variety of bound paper is all that they can hope to have access to.

Do you remember the joy when, as a child, you managed to read a book on your own for the first time?

I cannot remember the title of the first book I managed like that, but I remember sitting in a small red and white straw child’s basket chair with it, and being so proud when I got to the last page.

Not that long after, I took enormous pleasure in Enid Blyton’s Well Really, Mr Twiddle, which had me hooting with hysterical laughter.

Many years later, I got pretty much the same sense of pride from reading an entire Asterix book in German. Books always offer potential for new moments of personal achievement.

At the beginning of my twenties, I suffered some sort of breakdown after being injured and then chucked out of polytechnic. For ages, I couldn’t read – even much-loved books could not hold my concentration beyond the first few pages.

What revived reading for me was Stephen King. I picked up Carrie in a local bookshop and couldn’t it down. Then The Stand and It, with many more to follow.

I ‘discovered’ Terry Pratchett before he was anywhere near national treasure status, standing in a small sci-fi and fantasy bookshop to meet him once when nobody else was even around.

The result is three very precious signed volumes of the earliest Discworld novels.

Books – among the very first things I’d unpack in my nomadic early adulthood: get those out and it would start to feel like home.

Books, which provide a wonderful pre-holiday ritual when considering what from my buckling shelves I wish to take.

Books, which bring with them knowledge and entertainment.

While the majority of the books that I have bought in recent years have been non-fiction, I still seek out good storytelling too.

Penguin are now releasing the entire Maigret collection, and with new translations that finally do Simenon’s noir novels justice. Those are on pre-order with me.

There are old friends that I have read many times already and will probably read many times more: Jan Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Brönte’s Jane Eyre (which I hated at school), Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, Stephen King’s The Shining (the movie was crap) and Joanne Harris’s Chocolat, all of which I find new things in every time I pick them up.

I have a few antiquarian (relish that word) books – some up to 200 years old. They are to be treasured and looked after: I feel only a temporary guardian.

And I also rather pride myself on having a collection of books about German history – no! Not that period! – that would, I suspect, count as pretty decent.

I still judge a bookshop on its history section: on whether it is just full of WWII and the Nazis or goes beyond that.

Of course, talking of the Nazis, its always worth remembering how they burnt books on Bebelplatz in Berlin in 1933 – right next to the Humboldt University. That symbolism should tell you something about the power of the written word. And today, of course, we have groups of religious fundamentalists who want to deny people – and women and girls in particular – the right to learn.

Whether in the deepest, darkest days or winter, curled up on the sofa with a good read and a hot chocolate or under a parasol on the beach in the height of summer, is there really anything that can compare to the pleasure that can be found in the pages of a good book?

So let’s celebrate books today – and those who create them and those who read them – but let’s never stop loving books for all the other days of the year.

And PS: make sure you love your local library too.

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