On Books

Not so long ago I went to Cecil Court with my mother and grandmother for a half-day trip (feeling a bit miserable and sick for various reasons, not least the stupidity and superficiality I see around me - I'm an oversensitive and profoundly whiny soul), having been told that it was a street full of books. Since I devour just about anything in print, I was rather looking forward to going there. Although I had some niggling reservations after looking it up - it seemed to be a street for people who collected books rather than people who read them, like me - and although as the day wore on I became less and less partial to staying in London, I went anyway and set off with a spring in my step, my relatives trailing behind me, to see books.

As things turned out, I was sorely disappointed. The shops were small and of no benefit to anyone save perhaps rich collectors; apart from maybe two or three shops, their collections of books weren't very good - there was little for someone like me who admires classic and classical literature - and what books they did have were fantastically overpriced. Some of those books were the price of ten, fifteen, twenty, more than twenty books that I could buy in a second-hand shop or even any old bookshop. And if I'm perfectly honest - if those books cost that much I'd rather buy twenty books from Keith Fawkes and call it money better spent!

In short, Cecil Court caters to collectors of books rather than readers of books. And, as someone who falls into the latter category, it really opened my eyes.

I'll admit it freely now, as I have admitted it freely before - I like second-hand books. I like old books. I like hardback books and threadbound books and leatherbound books. I'm proud to say that I don't own a Kindle or a Nook and I dearly love to hold a book in my hands, to feel each page between my fingers, to let my eyes play over the pages and to breathe in the smell of paper and ink.

But despite all that, I'm not a snob. I don't like reading on a screen, but I'm perfectly capable of doing so; what with the weight of books on my shelves, I've entertained the thought of a Kindle, but I think my collection might take up too much space. I dearly love my books - the best of them are in mint condition and even the worst, which are battered and scribbled on (I have two copies of The Republic and one, while not particularly battered, is covered in blue highlighter; the other is in very good condition), are still intact. If I pick up a book in a shop and it's falling apart, I'll lovingly stick it back together with sellotape and not worry about its value. Hell, while I've got leatherbound books and books from about 1899 in my house, they're not the ones I care about most. Oddly enough, the books I care about most are an old library hardback, a battered, second-hand hardback, and a couple of paperbacks - nothing a collector would really care for. And I care about my books not for their value, their rarity, their age, or how good they look on my shelf, but for what's inside them - their printed words and secrets. I can pick up a book and read it again and again and again, and often I do. To me, a book is there for the reading; it is there to be indulged in and loved, not to sit like an expensive trophy on someone's shelf. Oh, if it were up to me every book in my house would be leatherbound, but the words on the page matter more than how they're presented, and as a reader of books, I think it will stay that way.