I went to another world recently. Not a wizardy fairy-filled world nor an inter-galactic time-warped world, but one stuffed with millions of words, thousands of pages and probably over one thousand combined years of writing. I’ve been in many a bookshop and library over the years, but never a bookshop like this – an antiquarian bookshop – and I was enthralled. It’s true I didn’t have much of a clue about most of the books I was looking at, or their importance when they were published or their significance now, but oh, the smell! Or should that be aroma? Isn’t it true that good food smells nice and anything rotten just smells, whereas old books and herbs are aromatic? My dictionary tells me that Aromatic means ‘having a distinctive and pleasant smell’, which leads me to conclude that if something smells good and of one particular thing, then our brains will identify it for us without us having to think about it, ie – an old book.
Only an old book smells like an old book. Only an apple smells like an apple. I was in the company of an apple tree and a lady recently and she was voicing her disappointment with the fruit, as it ‘didn’t taste of anything. Just apple.’ But I digress.
Anyway, back to the bookshop. Some fabulous books. On the dustcover of one particular book was a photograph of a member of the clergy with the words ‘Arrested in 1932 for ****** and eaten by a lion in 1937.’ You just don’t get that sort of thing on the covers of modern books.
But who will buy all those old, old books?
At what point do they stop being an item to be kept and treasured and become a paper-mite-infested, out-of-date irrelevance? Never, shout book lovers the world over. Yet I have this debate with myself every time I rehome books. How long will they do the rounds of charity shops, car boot sales, etc? Until they become tattered and dog-eared and no longer look good, despite the message inside? I will confess to not being an Early Adopter, but an up-to-a-point troglodyte, joyfully and deliberately old-fashioned when it comes to books. I am happy to use my books as coffee cup coasters or pile them high to ensure my bedside light is raised another few inches; I couldn’t do that with a Kindle (other electronic reading apps are available.) (Apparently.) And if you’ve read this far and are interested in what happens to old books, here’s a Radio 4 link should you want to have a listen.
Is that the pulping machine I hear?