My only plan for this weekend is to visit Dubai’s Big Bad Wolf book sale. With my bookshelves and bedside table already overflowing with unread novels, I had resolved to give the mega sale a miss – knowing full well that, with three million books on offer at massively discounted prices, I would invariably come home with a truckload of new tomes for which I have scant space. To be fair, since my puppy discovered how deliciously chewable a paperback can be, my collection has contracted ever so slightly, but it is still a living, breathing, ever-expanding thing that threatens to take over every spare surface in my house.
But a chat with a colleague, who visited the sale last weekend and bagged numerous bargains, weakened my resolve. So, come Saturday morning, I’ll be rifling through the Big Bad Wolf’s fiction section in earnest.
Books are my guilty pleasure. Since I was a little girl, I have loved the feeling of a new novel in my hands, wondering what secrets it holds within. There is nothing more enthralling than reading the first few chapters of a good book and slowly feeling yourself succumb to its twists and turns. A book invites you to engage, in a way that other media might not; you must use your imagination to draw a picture in your mind of the people and places being described and, in that way, you become an active participant in the way it unfolds. You make your own imprint on the story, so every tale becomes your own. It is a wonderfully intimate, all-encompassing process – the ultimate exercise in mindless mindfulness.
I think that intimacy is exacerbated when you have an actual, physical book in your hands – when you are able to feel the weight of it, to visually track your progress and see how close, or how far, you are to its final, longed-for conclusion.
Nonetheless, as someone who also feels a responsibility to minimise their footprint on this planet and who is acutely aware of how many trees must have been cut down to feed their addiction, I reluctantly clambered on to the e-reader bandwagon a few years ago. In truth, my hand was forced slightly, when I was gifted a Kobo by a loved one. As someone who travels often, I was not immune to the ease and practicality that this weightless little rectangle offered. To be able to throw it into my carry on and have an infinite number of books on tap was undeniably alluring.
I do wonder, though, whether such ease makes a reader less likely to commit? Some of my favourite books have been slow burners, and if I had the option of millions of other titles at my fingertips, without the physical version sitting by my bed, egging me on, would I have persevered?
So I never stopped buying actual books. Their lure was too ingrained – a 30-year love affair cannot be so easily swept aside. I have tried to maintain a happy balance: the e-reader for travel and for books that are essentially quick fixes and the “real thing” for titles that I think I will want to keep and read more than once.
I also recently learnt the error of placing too much faith in an e-reader. On a long-haul flight, my Kobo suddenly froze on page 67 of the novel I was reading – and it remains frozen on page 67 to this day. Despite my efforts, I have been unable to shake it out from its reverie, and the secrets of that particular novel have remained frustratingly out of reach. No physical books has ever let me down like that.