There is nothing quite like the call of the school book fair. For me, this was one of my favourite events of the entire school calendar. I would enter the assembly hall and all the shelves would have been set up with colourful, tantalising books ready for my consumption. My mother would take me to visit, order form clenched within my anxious little fist. She would let me luxuriate among the shelves, my thirst for stories unquenchable. And when she would leave, my dad would simply ask ‘what is the damage?’ And then he would pick up whatever shifts he needed to and cover the bill.
Thus started my obsession with owning books.
I know that I am privileged in this. Not just because I was able to buy books and not everyone is lucky enough, but because my parents also encouraged me to devour anything that I could get my hands on and they never restricted my reading. Not every child has this. Not every child has parents who will take them to the library every week with and let them fill their arms with books, or will buy them a new book on release day because they’ve talked about it so much. I was that lucky.
What my parents taught me, in allowing me this luxury, was not general monetary value, but the value of books themselves. Of reading and knowledge and escapism. They let me enjoy the process of finding books, choosing them, and then finally having one to own. It made me feel ownership over my own reading, appreciation and value in something that was precious and mine. I knew that we did not have money to constantly buy new books (not at the rate that i read them) and so it was a really precious gift to own one of my favourites.
At university, I feel like I lost part of this appreciation. Books were a necessary part of my course, but I was buying because I had to, I was told what to read and when to read it. I felt restricted and trapped. I didn’t value the books that I had because they did not hold the same magic as something chosen after tough deliberation in a school fair, or after the hours of trawling through a book shop and searching for the gem I knew I needed to own. My shelves began to fill up, but my enjoyment of books – especially as precious objects themselves – decreased.
However, university did teach me something – the value of annotation.
Wasn’t it blasphemous to write in books?! How dare I underline them? Or thicken them so much with the multitude of post it notes that stuck out of the edges? Dog ear pages?! No, shocking, surely not. Except it was not just acceptable…
Annotating books became my new one to value them, to show my love and appreciation for them. Highlighting quotes that made me laugh, smile or cry or adding my own thoughts and comments next to favourite passages became a way of me responding to and interacting with my books. I realised that reading was not ‘passive’, it was an active conversation between writer/creator/text and reader.
And annotations became history. A record of my maturing, growing and developing as a reader. I would annotate in one colour at 21 and reread at 28 with another colour. I could see the way I had changed and the new opinions I had formed. It became a conversation with myself.
The more damaged and abused a book, the more likely it was that I valued and loved it. Those books are like comfort blankets. They are the things that I go back to again and again until they are so worn and old that it is obvious that they have been loved. I am lucky to have amassed a large personal collection of books but I am still a massive advocate of the library. I visit the library still and have ebooks and listen to audiobooks through subscription services. But I also see a massive amount of value in owning some books – whether a small collection or large – that are precious, treasured and well loved items.
I wondered what others thought about this? Are owning books important it and valuable? Or is it only the reading of them that people feel has any weight and merit? Are you an e-book advocate and think physical books are unnecessary now and should we always just read and release our books back in the wild. Do you write in your books like me and then keep them close? And am I doing a disservice to the books and the stories… I keep them, but I have so many I will never be able to reread them all again – so why keep at all?
Thoughts, feelings and comments welcome!
Stay safe all and have a great Friday!