I was in the bookshop at Salts Mill at Saltaire yesterday. For an hour. There is much space between bookshelves, many books are set front facing, benches line the walls, and staff do not ask if they can help. Their salespoint is central and big should you need any.
I mooched along shelves of picture books, books on textiles, dipped into The Poetics of Space, a craft book on making minibooks, natural history books, kids' books (one I loved and scanned my mental list of under three year acquaintances whose birthday was imminent - about a rabbit who says poo bum) philosophy and poetry books. I took some notes, jotted down titles and authors, got over stimulated, then excited at what I would do when home.
Eventually we collapsed in the cafe for lunch. We'd bought two books. And talked about buying more cheaper online, getting them secondhand. Blah blah. Nothing to help the bookseller's cause. Nothing to stop to world domination of Amazon. And yet while there I kept thinking this wonderful slice of the afternoon could not have happened if all we had were ebooks.
I read ebooks. They're very handy for someone who thinks she needs to take six books on a three hour train journey, just in case... But I also completely value and recognise my need for physical connection to a book, for being able to physically flick pages, run my fingers across a picture or line, and take in the different sizes and textures of a book display. All this, to an extent, can be done online at home. But not being at home shifts my antennae so I stumble upon titles that surprise me. Not being at home, sitting on an unfamiliar bench dipping into the third chapter of a book I may not buy within the hour, sharpens my receptivity to what I read.
I need to take something of it away with me, I need to lodge what I read and subsequent ideas. Not possessing it makes it more vital to use or store for later use. And if it proves to be absolutely relevant to what I come to do then I will hunt it out (probably online, I'm not perfect). I want to keep my focus, not to graze on everything the internet promises. I want my grazing to be physical, as I wander from the natural history to the craft section. (Perhaps the physicality is inevitable since I'm engrossed in making another poetry pamphlet, using more delicious paper and card, incorporating charts and tearing.)
Jonathan Franzen's Guardian piece on technoconsumeriam, particularly within the book industry chimes with my own disgruntlement towards the trumpeting of technology as definer of what is published over its role as provider. A friend tells me optimistic talk amongst techies is that within 50 years we'll be living through avatars. I presume if this is the case (and if there's truth in carrying on as we are will lead to of all speciesbeing extinct in 50 years*) we'll be 'living' in worlds designed on second generational memories of this physical world. A water vole? You'll have to use an otter instead.
*Prof Veronica Strang, an environmental anthropologist specialising in water