In days gone by, only the wealthy could read, and a whole wall of leather bound, gold embossed books were usually some dull legal offerings or a complete set of classics, indicating you were probably wealthy and/or intelligent. Going back even further, books were handmade, sometimes by monks, handwritten and heavily illustrated.
Then came learning and the ability for everyone to read, and books tended to be hard-backed, latterly with a paper slip cover, and there was a distinct quiver of pleasure in opening one for the first time knowing you were its first reader, and once read, it was given pride of place on the bookshelf. Cookery books are an example of books in hard back form which have endured for being more resistant against greasy fingers and dollops of dough.
With more leisure time came the paperback, making access to reading for holiday enjoyment, for example, easy - a stroll through the duty-free section of an airport on route to some foreign beach prompted purchases of ‘3 for the price of 2’, the third maybe something you hadn’t heard of before, but what the heck it’s free. Having been read they would be discarded or brought home complete with grains of sand stuck between the pages and a well remembered coffee stain, which would evoke memories of a good holiday. A shelf of well thumbed paperbacks might indicate your intelligence, a wall full of pristine books might indicate the means to purchase them but not the will to read them. Paperbacks were chosen by their brightly coloured covers or their gushing previews on the back by well-meaning critics, aiming to entice you to buy.
Now we have the e-book, where a whole library can be carried in one device. As a newcomer to Portugal years ago I would wander aimlessly looking for books written in my native language (English), haunting the second hand book racks, looking for something I hadn’t read before that wasn’t one of those ‘3 for the price of 2’ third books. Once my e-reader was bought I sighed in relief and could browse the offerings, delighted at the books for 99p that seemed to be everywhere, but often turned out to be books by new authors who self-published in order to get a foot in the door of the literary world.
But I wonder if we are losing something by the e-book, rarely do we clasp a new book in two hands and flip the pages for that delicious smell of paper, or admire the numbering or scrolls at the top of the pages, or go back and find things that we used as page markers (a sheet of soft toilet paper was one of my favourites). Now, we close the e-reader, and when we open it again, the last page is there, ready for us to read. The library in the back somewhere is a list of grey-looking images that I hardly noticed when I ordered the book, having been enticed to buy by the reviews, or conveniently graded on a sliding scale by previous purchasers. Even with the titles, I sometimes find it hard to remember even reading it.
Nevertheless, reading is a pleasure, and I will take it whatever way it comes!