Confessions of a Confirmed Bibliophile

Long before I was a writer, I was a reader. I still am. I love books. Not only do I love them for the stories that dwell inside them, I also love the physical sensation of holding—no, of experiencing a book. I love the sleek covers of a new paperback, the faint crack of the spine in opening a new hardcover. I love the crisp white pages with their sharp corners, and the smell of binder’s glue.

But a recent reading of  Nevil Shute’s Australian classic The Far Country reminded me of the more subtle joys of old books. This was a sixty-year-old library book, and it showed. The boards were covered with thick, coarsely woven fabric treated with something that would presumably withstand a nuclear blast. There was nothing remotely attractive about this sort of binding; it was bound with durability, not beauty, in mind. Still, there was something about it that I found appealing. Maybe it was the way it fell open in my hand—and stayed open at the same page, even when I laid it down. Maybe it was the way the once-sharp corners were rounded with wear, the edges of the once-crisp pages furred velvety soft by dozens, even hundreds, of hands. Other, newer books might be more glamorous, but there’s something comforting about old books.

In a way, every old book is a mystery, regardless of genre: what child, long since grown to adulthood, scribbled with a red crayon on the front endpaper? Who was the H. Colby who received my copy of Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow for Christmas in 1947? Was he/she pleased with the gift? What series of events transpired to move the volume from H. Colby’s bookshelf to mine?

Maybe this is why my feelings toward ebook readers are so ambivalent. On the one hand, I’m pleased to see so many out-of-print books finding new life through this medium, and of course I’m delighted to receive a royalty check each month for sales of my own backlist, now available in electronic form. And yet even though I have a Kindle, I still prefer print books. Part of the problem, I believe, is the sameness of ebooks: no matter how different the subject matter, every book looks alike on my Kindle. The text appears in the same font, with the same spacing between lines, paragraphing, and all other formatting. All identical except the stories they tell.

But that, of course, is the most important part. And that, in the end, may be what will eventually make me fall in love with ebooks too. After all, my love of books had to come from somewhere, some book in my now long-forgotten childhood that made me hungry for more of that. Maybe I just haven’t yet stumbled across that story, unavailable except in electronic form, that sends me to the computer determined to clutter up my Kindle’s memory banks with more. Maybe the next electronic book I read will be the one to have me devouring ebooks like a junkie in search of his next fix.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

Because I love books.

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11 Responses to “Confessions of a Confirmed Bibliophile”

  1. Cindy Strandvold says:

    Aha! I think that "sameness" you mentioned might be what's holding me back from getting an e-reader. I'll have to think about that. 🙂

  2. My husband won a Kindle when he renewed his membership in the American Chemical Society; I didn't buy it. I'm told it's a good way to try new-to-me authors cheaply. Maybe I need to focus on that.

  3. Norma Danzey says:


    I could not have said it better! I have an ereader and I did read one book on it, but I gravitate back to those wonderful pages turning and the feel, smell and looks of the real thing. I do like the lighted aspect of the ereader. If you want to read after everyone else is sleeping, you can do it. I really do not think books will ever leave us, because they are so much a part of who we are. An avid book lover myself, I would never think of completely discarding them for an ereader. Having read every book in my elementary and middle school libraries, I continued my love of reading until I decided to write books myself. I discovered I love writing even more that reading, if that is possible. If you think about it, they are the same thing!

  4. Sheri South says:

    Norma, thanks for commenting! I suspect most--if not all--writers started out as avid readers who one day either read a book so awful we threw it down saying, "I can do better than that!" or a book so wonderful we weren't ready to let it go, and felt compelled to write one of our own as a way of hanging onto that feeling.

    I think (hope? pray?) you're right about ereaders never completely replacing print books. I know I'll hang onto my print books until they crumble to dust!

  5. Alice Duncan says:

    Great blog, Sheri! I love the feel of books, too, but the older and more arthritic I get, the more I love my Kindle! This is especially true since I had surgery to fix a detached retina, because I can make the print on my Kindle as large as it needs to be for me to see it, bless its heart 🙂

  6. Suzi Love says:

    Great blog post.
    Being Australian, I grew up reading Neville Shute's books and his stories are the type that stick with you through time. Old books and old favorites have a special feel and are still some of the absolute best reading.
    Suzi Love

  7. Sheri South says:

    Thanks for posting, Alice! I suspect that ability to enlarge the font may become more & more important to me as I get older; I'm already using reading glasses with a 2.5 strength. And as much trouble as you've had with your eyes lately, I can see how it would be a lifesaver for you!

  8. Sheri South says:

    Suzi, I had seen Neville Shute's name mentioned in various book discussions, but had never read him before. The Far Country really had a strong sense of time and place. I wonder sometimes about what makes one book stand the test of time while another just comes across as dated. (And yes, I wonder sometimes what people will think of mine if they come across them in future years!) Sometimes I worry that in our eagerness to "hook" the reader, we forget to "ground" the reader.

  9. Bonnie says:

    What a descriptive post. I, too, love the feel of a book in my hand. My own home library has over 5000 books. I don't own a dedicated e-reader, but I do own many ebooks that I can read on my tablet. I like to have my very favorites in electronic format so I can have them with me. Unfortunately, I think books are going to become less and less available as we trend toward the mostly digital world. But, my collection will stay with me.

  10. Sheri South says:

    Bonnie, thanks for commenting. You make a good point about having "keepers" in both formats. I confess to being a bit of a Luddite, but I'm sure I'll make the adjustment and will eventually get on the ebook train for good. But like you, I'm keeping my book collection, too.

  11. I love the pace from new to old books to e-readers. I, too, love new books, and you captured how it feels to hold a new book so well. I will begin to ponder where my older and library books have been. I usually just want to read the book and don't question the packaging. Thanks for your blog!

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