“Bring a book, write a note inside before you take another in exchange,” I read as I stand inside a charming little bookshop, only it’s not a bookshop — it is a book exchange, curated by MA students at London College of Fashion. What a wonderful and ingenious concept, quietly tucked away in Carnaby street, perfect for a moment of solace, or of warmth on a rainy London day such as today.
As I sit here typing away, I wonder that it’s only been two weeks since I’ve started using this wonderful device called the iPad. When I pull it out of my bag proudly, ready to take notes, download a new book, browse the internet, and when I tell others that I feel like this gadget has changed my life (admittedly a little dramatic), and that it might have solved my back problems, they quite obviously wonder why I’m saying this two years too late.
Everyone around me has tablets, I myself have played games on it a number of times, but I always thought it was one of those unnecessary things and that my neat, compact laptop was more than enough. It is only since I have started using it that I’ve realised how much weight it has taken out of my bag, that I can carry it in a very small handbag and that it’s easy to write and read on the train, something I would never do with my laptop. And what’s more, while I’m on the treadmill or cross trainer, or even on a bike, I can very easily read a book, which incentivises me to often exercise for a longer period of time and, of course, I end up reading far more. I do wish I had come to terms with and accepted this functional little thing earlier. While the feel of the book, the smell of the book and all those reasons why I was resisting reading books on Kindle and such devices still stands, reading on the latter just means that I can read far more easily, often more quickly, and that I can be reading four books simultaneously.
That said, I still love bookshops and always will, I’ll still have my own little library and I will always feel like I’m turning a page rather than merely sliding the screen (as cool as it is to slide the screen). A conference I attended on the weekend in London about writing in the digital age put on by the Literary Consultancy at the Free Word Centre had me thinking about today’s digital age, about stories that can be adapted according to the reader’s anxiety and emotions (seriously?), thus using multimedia to bring books to life, and the importance of social media in publicising a book. And while this conference was taking place, all I could hear apart from the speakers’ voices was the sound of typing … so, of course, by the end of the first day, I also had my iPad open and was online while it was all going on.
Speaking of bookshops, I just remembered this antique bookshop and café I happened to bump into, open at midnight, in Istanbul last week.
That scent of old pages, books on the shelves with that most ancient feel displayed in such a dimly lit space, though most were not in English ... I could just imagine spiderwebs and pages falling out.
There is simply no replacement for that, and there never will be. But at the advent of anything new, whether it was the television, the computer, the phone, there is excitement, worry and resistance, but it’s about finding a middle ground, finding a balance … That could mean reading one real paper book at the same time as all the books on Kindle or a tablet and making an effort to switch to those real books at home, and by the same token, maybe saying no to a television in the bedroom; rather, keeping it in the living room only (one of my own rules). Whatever it may be, it’s important to move with the times, yet simultaneously making a conscious effort to not forget what we once valued and ensuring that we still do value it ... much in the same way, one could say, as our traditions, passed down from generation to generation. And on that note, it’s time to indulge in exchanging some books I’ve brought with me.
— Follow Meera Ashish on www.talefourcities.com and @meeraashish and @talefourcities