So I’m lucky enough to have just come back from a summer holiday in New York. It wasn’t my first experience of the city. I first went there all alone, aged 19, en route to a summer camp in Pennsylvania. My initial impressions weren’t good. To put it plainly, the whole place scared me sh*tless. But ten weeks of cleaning laundry in the Catskill Mountains and a month of backpacking softened my attitude. By the time I was back in NYC, I was so full of beans that I relaxed and took some photos. I didn’t step into any book shops though. I didn’t have enough cash for that. And I didn’t step off Manhattan either. Everyone I’d met had warned me not to.
That was a long time ago. New York City has changed enormously.
Twenty years later and two years ago, I discovered this for myself when I went back with my husband. I saw that Times Square was no longer a seedy dive. I saw that the subway trains were no longer covered in graffiti. I saw that the pavements of Manhattan were spotlessly clean and that the people of New York are possibly the politest and most helpful city dwellers on the planet. I stepped off Manhattan and I saw parts of Brooklyn and parts of The Bronx. I also saw the great big awful hole in Lower Manhattan where once World Trade Centers 1 and 2 stood. How could I not?
Like I said, New York has changed.
On a lighter note, I also saw Kindles in that summer of 2011. Or maybe they were Nooks. Or Kobos. Or Sony e-readers or… well, whatever they were, they definitely weren’t books. And they were in the hands of almost every person reading on the subway.
The book - hardback or paperback – seemed to be a fast disappearing thing.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with Kindles etc* I’ve even got one. I just don’t use it. Because it turns out that I really like holding a book. And when I find one that I really love, I want to keep it and put it on my bookshelf. Because I like things. In my house, I don’t have ornaments. I just have books. And records. And DVDs and some CDs. I suppose – like ornaments – they give a clue about who I am. And when I’m on the tube or metro or subway or bus or whatever, I like looking at what random strangers are reading and get a clue about who they are too.
Except you can’t do that when every ‘thing’ has been reduced to a digital file.
So two years ago, I was a tiny bit sad to see how rampant those anonymous grey screens were and how rare the book was. Back then, I supposed I was staring straight into a bookless future.
But guess what?
THE BOOK IS ALIVE AND KICKING!
Yes. On this summer’s trip, I noticed with delight that books outnumbered the Kindookobo-reader-things by at least ten to one. Probably a whole lot more. So it seems that people have flirted with the grey gadget and now they’ve gone back to their first love. Paper. Because almost everyone was reading a book. And all sorts of books. Not just celebrity biographies, or Fifty Shades of S**t or the latest JK Rowling-wrote-it. People’s noses were buried in books I’d never heard of. In fact, the only thing I recognised was Zadie Smith’s NW. And it wasn’t just adults. Kids were at it too. And not just girls – but BOYS. TEENAGE boys. Wearing hi-tops and sideways snap-backs and big concentrating frowns on their foreheads.
And everywhere I went in NYC, I saw signs of a love affair with reading. New York library was promoting children’s books. A fly poster in Williamsburg was telling everyone to read more. The Strand – as ever – was doing a roaring trade. Now I know that E-readers promote reading too of course. But when things can be reduced to a cheap – or free - digital download, there is always the danger that writing will be reduced to a hobby - something unpaid and unedited and not requiring the services of any skilled professionals. And whilst this may be very empowering and egalitarian, it also threatens quality, professionalism and people’s livelihoods.
So – because it sounds better in French - I say, Vivre le Livre.
Although it also sounds pretty damn good in English too: LONG LIVE THE BOOK J
*Actually I probably do.
P.S The signed Downside Up and fancy edition Alice in Wonderland giveaway from last month's blog entry was won by Erica Gillingham of London. Hooray!