There are too many books in my house. I know this, as I walk into rooms where they are stacked in neat(ish) piles on the floor, but it doesn’t stop me from acquiring more, and more. ‘Books do furnish a room,’ as Anthony Powell said. I do not (yet) possess a Kindle – but I am not against them. Anything that makes knowledge portable and easy is a good thing. But nothing will replace the feel of a book for me – the heft, the scent, the flick of its pages. There are books I love simply because they are beautiful; their words are important too, but sometimes it is enough just to turn the pages and feel their texture, the bite of the type, the glossy cover.
I grew up in a house full of books; my father, who was a publisher, taught me to appreciate hand-stitched bindings, the heady scent of paper and leather. His library had a particular musty smell that I can still conjure up from my childhood sanctuary within its cool walls. There were certain books I wasn’t allowed to read (I remember a book by Havelock Ellis on sexual deviation was a particular favourite) and books I didn’t understand, but the excitement of all those words, all those things one could know, kept me enthralled for hours.
My father’s library is the reason I am a writer. I thought there could be no higher achievement than to be an author, someone who had something to say, and readers to receive his / her words. I have never stopped thinking that. And so, a few hours ago, when I took receipt of a package, although the contents were known to me before I opened it, there was still a little prickle of excitement. I have had this experience before, but each time I open a package containing a book I have written, it is the first time all over again. It never ceases to be surprising – here is an object that in some way I am responsible for, but which now has a presence of its own. Yes, my book, my name on the cover, but a book destined for other libraries in other places, where there will be readers I don’t know taking in my words.
This might sound egotistical; I don’t mean it to be. Although I don’t exactly believe in the “death” of the author, I feel he / she recedes as books make their way in the world, and readers make their own sense of what they find in them. All the books I love have authors (some long dead) that speak to me when their pages are turned, but what I make of them might not always be exactly what that author intended. As it should be. And maybe that transference from author to reader is no different if the text is electronically generated than it is printed in the pages of a book. But the book somehow makes it official – in this case the physical manifestation of three years of thinking, and writing, and rewriting, and despairing, and then writing some more. And it is a wonderful feeling to hold this book in my hand.