June 6, 2020 Sara Penrose

I am currently reading a book. I am really enjoying said book. After a while though the mind tends to wander. An indication that despite how good the book is I need to take a momentary break, regain perspective, digest and contemplate what I have read so far. Mull it over. Enjoy its taste. Explore it. Yet I also find a conflicting feeling of drive and desire to not stop reading… to keep cramming in and consuming the words and pages, picking up pace and being incessant to the task until it is done. Hungry for the end conclusion.

I know really that if I do this, not only will my day disappear without me partaking in it (which would leave a blank page in my own story) I would also start to miss all the aspects of the words and story that the author perhaps did or didn’t intend. To a certain point, the longer I take over the book the more I will get out of it and the more layers I shall discover.

The reason I am reading this book is because I have recently become a member of a book club. It has been a fascinating new endeavor which has lead me to read a much more varied library than I would have chosen for myself, and also to expose some poor dear friends to the type of books I usually read. I digress…

The book I am currently reading is in the form of a paperback and it got me thinking laterally about books. What is a book?

I have recently enjoyed some E-books and some audio books. They do give a very different experience of a tale; certainly very quick and easy to acquire. The audio books are really good for progressing through difficult or seemingly slow bits of a story, and for listening too whilst completing other simple tasks. I did try to listen to an audiobook whilst I painted but it seems that my creativity process is deeper than just flicking about a bit of paint so I had to stop my literary progress during art. There is a whole new blog to be discussed there, but another day.

So a book. What is it? A story, a truth, a lie… something in-between. An opinion, an experience, a knowledge. Is it just the content that has the value? I suspect that a real life 3D book (hard or soft) gives you so much more.

One of my favourite childhood memories is of Kettering Library. In my opinion that building was and still is one of the most beautiful places in the world. My mum used to take me and my sister there regularly. I can not remember ever objecting. That area of town by the market, church and shared building with the Alfred East gallery was always the Magical mysterious part of town. So the adventure was not just the library but the getting there too. Weaving our way past parked cars next to the swimming pool, a light waft of chlorine.. the pride of walking past the council offices, where I knew my dad worked… with computers..(mysterious boxes of coding that performed some hilarious magic when you typed RUN and pressed return. I’m not sure my opinion of computers has progressed much since the 80’s)… then down on through the secret tunnels and paths with secret garden gates , flowers and unreachable peace and beauty which beckoned me from beyond the green railings.

The first reward of the library was the towering, slow majesty and wizardry of the wooden revolving door. It always seemed like we might be entering some unexplored corner of the professors house from The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. The solidity of that wood, the creaky sound, the swish over the mats and the rich smell of good wood. If my mum had allowed it I would have gone around and around in the door till I was dizzy.

Then the sounds of library industry hit you. Just because there was no talking doesn’t mean there is no sound. In fact, silence of words enables us to hear better. To notice things. The tap tap, plunk perlunk, pitter patter of different walking feet against the cold floor. The rolling of trollies laden with books. The queens of books turning and looking sternly over their glasses at me, reminding that there would be consequences of noise or misbehavior. The good solid sure rhythm of the stamp checking books out. The quick and efficient flick through tiny coloured cards. A pause… ink topped up… stamping resumed. Once in, you could absorb the grandeur of the wooden shelves, rising high but still only partial coverage up to the lofty ceiling. The simple sounds resonating and being amplified in that space.

Then the turn stiles. Clearly marked IN and OUT. Concise and simple. Once past the IN and on the promise of being good I was allowed to explore. I always had a nose in the grown up sections first, mainly the non fiction, in awe of the gleaming posh looking bindings, daring me to reach out and touch. The age and long words kept me admiring from afar. The smells and sounds alone would have held my attention all day, not to mention the funny actions of people when they think people can’t see them. I still think it fairly amusing how by taking away one ability, some assume people have none. ….

So finally the books. To get to the content you need to navigate the bindings for clues, like a good bottle of wine (not that I thought this as a child but the analogy works for me now). The Title, the authors name, the colour, illustration, the font, the feel, the fatness, the wear. All this from the smallest area of the book. Then the back of the book, story summary and appraisal for the author….actually I get bored by this so my book decision is usually made if not just on the spine of the book alone by reading of the very first sentence of the story and then flicking all the pages of the book, to create a breeze on my face (not to damage – books must be respected!) followed by a tap to the cover if all is pleasing.

Back to the present. I have now had time to pause from my book and so am keen to progress to the next layers. But I am reminded by my memories that books are so much more than a story and content. Only a fraction of a book can be experienced by “downloading”. The smell and texture of a book is one thing, but also how did I acquire the book, from an exciting library adventure? a bustling high street bookstore? a supportive purchase from a charity shop? On this occasion it is borrowed from a friend. A friend whom I have not known all that long but we still have our own tale to tell. So reading this book reminds me of that story too.

As I read the pages turn and the spine crinkles as if smiling at its gift. The book is aging, it has its very own journey and tales to tell. A real life book is so much more than “just a book”.

Look beyond the obvious and see what else there is. The results will often surprise and delight you!