(First published in Le News edition 25, 15 – 21 May 2014)
‘Goodbye, my darlings,’ I waved to them, as they sped away in the back of the charity shop van. ‘I’ll never forget you.’
My books. Boxes of them, packed off as if they meant nothing to me. As if they hadn’t given me some of the happiest moments of my life.
My husband, who has a heart of stone, was unmoved.
‘You’ve still got too many,’ he said, pointing at the boxes being loaded onto the moving van.
‘Those ones are coming with us,’ I answered, baring my teeth a little.
‘Fine. But let’s try to keep it under control in the new place, okay?’
Three years later and ‘the new place’ is starting to feel familiar, if not actually like home. And the book situation is pretty much under control. Because the minute our feet touched Swiss soil, we went completely digital. I dusted off my Kindle and started mainlining ebooks. Oh, the immediacy of it! You hear about a book, you hit that Buy now with 1-Click® button and ten seconds later you have it! Just add coffee, for perfect happiness. Maybe such immediate gratification isn’t psychologically healthy but it’s a book, so it’s okay, right?
Also, ebooks are very secretive. Nobody but Amazon and me need ever know how much more time I spend buying books than buying groceries. Nobody need ever say, in a judgemental tone, ‘We’ve been out of muesli and tomato sauce for a week, but I see you’ve finally completed your Sookie Stackhouse collection. Well done.’
Then I discovered Audible and things got even better! I can have books read to me while I run, cook, dust my empty bookshelves, whatever.
But. I’m going to give all of that up and go back to print; back to space-devouring, dust-gathering, forest-munching paper books. For the sake of the children.
Ever since the four-year-old ordered ‘a big glass of wine’ in a restaurant in Yvoire, I’ve realised that children do as their parents do. If I want them to read, they need to see me reading. Actual books, not ebooks on my laptop. For all they know, I could be spending hours … I don’t know … watching cute cat videos on YouTube and Facebooking. (Cough, cough).
And it’s no use looking to their father, who seems to have taken to reading business books in bed at night. (Who is this man? Seventeen years ago he won my heart by quoting poetry and now he’s reading something called Data Analysis and Decision Making). Clearly the job of bibliophile-building is up to me.
So, henceforth, print books will be seen in hand. They’ll also be seen on floor, on bedside table and next to bath. Stories will tumble off shelves again, and intrude into our lives. They’ll trip us up, get in our way, remind us of themselves all the time. It’ll be really untidy and my husband won’t like it but it’ll do him good too. Man should not live on management textbooks alone.
And how will I stay away from my late night trysts with Amazon? Well, I won’t. Sooner or later I’ll find myself running to the computer, like Gollum to his Precious, eyes full of longing and arms outstretched … slowed down only by the dusty piles of books that someone left all over the floor.