26 Fruits


About books

The way we read has changed over the last couple of decades.  I’ve no doubt that digital technology has been a good thing.  But I worry about a future decline in the reading of books.

Digital technology gives us access to immense stores of information. But information is different from imagination.  There is a large body of opinion in the library world that books are unnecessary because there are now more efficient ways of accessing information.  And it’s true that the internet allows us to search for information more quickly and easily than previous search systems (such as browsing through books in libraries).

I worry about what we miss.  I love books, I love their feel, I love the worlds they have opened in my imagination.  They demand and encourage concentration.  Is online reading discouraging it?  I don’t know, but a world without real books seems to me an impoverished world.  Two things I’ve been involved in this week have sharpened this sense.

First, my book “The angel of the stories” went off for printing.  It will be printed in a limited edition, with 21 illustrations by Anita Klein.  David Carroll has designed it as a beautiful object, hard back covered in cloth, colour illustrations tipped in, endpapers, a silk ribbon, beautiful paper, the whole thing contained in a slip case.  We aim to make it an object that will be a joy to own and to read.  The printed edition will be available in two months’ time, but in the meantime, the online serialisation continues on www.shortbreadstories.co.uk.

On Saturday I went along to Cricklewood Library, in the London borough of Brent.  The library is threatened with closure under the Government’s cuts.  My friend Graham Durham is organising the campaign to oppose the closure and he invited me and other writers along to a Saturday morning read-in.

It was a joyful thing to do.  I read Kristina Stephenson’s book “Sir Charlie Stinky Socks” to a group of young children.  I got adults and kids joining in the reading by making the noises and performing the actions of the book’s characters: Sir Charlie, a grey mare, a witch with a watch, the terrible beasties, a green dragon, the wiggly woos.  As I read I showed the pictures, folding out the pages to reveal the secret pictures underneath.  It could have been done by reading from a Kindle, but it wouldn’t have been half such fun.

This was about imagination not information, and I believe that imagination is the most precious human ability.  We need to let the imaginations of children bloom or they’ll become unimaginative adults – the kind of adults who can’t imagine why people need libraries and books.

4 Responses

  1. Jamie Jauncey says:

    Where else apart from bookshops – and heaven knows what’s going to happen to them – do you see daily such a public celebration of the act of reading?

  2. Andy says:

    I was on holiday recently in warm climes. By the pool – a very common place to see a public celebration of reading – there were a mix of real books and Kindles, some people who had both. Downloaded books – which is not the same as online reading – are not a threat to literacy or imagination. In fact, there are wonders that digital books could open up to us in terms of imaginative play between different forms of media, different types of image, the moving and the still, words that are dynamic as well as static. Think about Tristram Shandy. A book written as the novel form was relatively young and as the possibilities of new types of printing were being explored. One of its joys was how it used the possibilities of a relatively new form and a relatively new technology to play with the reader’s imagination. So I am not threatened by Kindle, I am excited by what the interaction between printed and the digital media could produce. Your public reading to the kids could have been even more fun if words could literally leap off pages – and one day soon they will.
    Libraries too should not be made redundant because of Kindle etc. In fact, Libraries will no doubt have stocks of Kindles and iPads to rent out in due course. They have always been good at keeping up with and curating the latest forms of verbal communication, whether it be CDs, audio books, videos etc. The savage attack on libraries is not about a new technology making an old technology redundant. It’s about political priorities and a Gradgrindian sense of utilitarianism which I’d hoped we’d seen the last of in December 1990…It’s awfully, awfully depressing.

  3. Ian Anstice says:

    Glad to see you joining the fight against library closures.

    For the full list of library closures and map see http://publiclibrariesnews.blogspot.com/
    For reasons to defend libraries, please see http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/

  4. Steve says:

    I am sure that Kindles, IPad (and as of today the IPad2) and all sorts of modern technology have a place but Jamie summed it up so well about books. Today at 5.45 I had the pleasure of being able to go into Hatchards and Waterstones on Piccadily. They were both busy with people looking along the shelves, flicking through books, sitting down (on seats and the floor) and reading, asking for help to find a particular book and of course buying. I did all of those things (well I stood and read ‘cos all the seats were taken up and I generally get trodden on if I sit on the floor). I have some more books too.

    Books also hold more than words for me, they hold memories. When I was young my mum gave me some of her books from when she was at school and she had treasured them all those years because they had released her imagination and she wanted them to do the same for me. I still have them, some were given to her as school prizes and for her that meant so much as there was no way she could have afforded to buy them. When my dad died I had many of his books from his childhood that he had also treasured. All of these books hold many memories for me especially those where as children mum and dad wrote their names inside the front cover. A little piece of them lives on. Some have a very particular smell that takes me back to when I was a child and was first given them – the books are very old and some were probably second hand when given to mum and dad. Would I have those memories with a Kindle or an IPad? (I am sure there is a scratch and sniff App)

    I can afford most books I want nowadays but I have continued to use the local library. It is a valuable resource. When I was young we could not afford to buy many books. A new book to own was generally a birthday or christmas present. Our mum or dad (or if we were lucky both) would take me, my brother and sister, to the library every Saturday and we all took out our books for the week. Yes all, mum and dad were readers all their lives. Without the library we would not have been able to read the number and range we all did. Our imaginations would not have been stimulated each week.

    A few years ago I was unable to read for some time due to an eyesight problem. The library was a place I could get audio books. John was the person who suggested that and also very kindly gave me audio books of his own. I still remember sitting in the dark listening as I was read to.

    I am horrified with the thought of library closures. Fine for those in society who can afford a Kindle, IPad or to buy the book, CD or whatever they want but what about those for whom books etc are still expensive or who just want depth and breadth? What gives those taking decisions to shut libraries the right to deny people the opportunity to read, to access all the other resources libraries have nowadays. I do not remember library closure in anyone’s election manifesto – and I mean local elections. I heard a Govt minister talking today. Deficit reduction mantra, but he was also talking about growth, recovery, innovation, investment and jobs. Reducing the deficit is no excuse for denying people the opportunity to learn and as John says to become and remain imaginative. This is the time when we should be investing in people so that they can help get us out of these austere times and libraries are a key resource for that investment.

    John, I love the photo, there is so much happening in that picture.

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