Reading between the covers

I read to live. My house is full of books, far more than I could ever read and I have to ration my book buying. (Imagine having an e-reader that could hold another 1500 books!)

Last Wednesday I found myself accidentally caught up in the debate about e-books versus the printed book. In the afternoon I came across Zoe Dattner and Louise Swinn from Sleepers Publishing on camera, talking up the e-book on their Twenty-first Century Bookshow. With howling babies in the background, they were close to selling me the idea of these ‘devices’, as they called them, which would make life so much easier and take up so much less space.

That same evening I went to the Athenaeum Library to hear Kay Craddock, who owns an antiquarian bookshop in Collins Street, speak about collecting books. There I discovered I was not a book collector, as I buy books mainly to read them, not to cherish them. But Kay’s talk did fill me with regret that I had not cared more for my books. I should have kept their dust jackets intact, taken them off the shelves more often, and run my hands over them to lubricate the leather binding. And I shouldn’t have written my name in them, not unless I plan to be famous, which I still do…as an author, in case you are wondering.

So, from one extreme to the other of the e-book debate in one day: from twenty-first century babes to an 1839 institution. From on demand e-books flashing instantly onscreen to the patient ranks of much-read volumes in a fusty library. But maybe those extremes will be the reality of the future. The book to be read is available instantaneously, while the book to be cherished is kept safe and intact by its custodians.

After Kay’s talk, Margery, the archivist at the Ath, took me into her office to show me her work. Ah-ha, yet another place that could hold clues to the mystery of my novel-in-the–making. As I research my book, I am starting to fall in love with my adopted city, Melbourne. I notice the fading facades of buildings dwarfed by skyscrapers, stop to touch the old stones of churches and sniff the air of ageing pubs. That night in the Athenaeum I was thankful that Margery and archivists and librarians everywhere were keeping history alive for me.

On their blog, Zoe and Louise talked about the next generation of kids who will learn to love reading through e-books. I can think of one advantage. They wouldn’t need a torch to read in bed. I can even imagine myself taking one to bed, to read under the covers so I don’t disturb my partner. But, when I need inspiration, I will take out an old book, to caress the cover, leaf through the pages and feel its history through my fingertips.

Carol Middleton

Carol Middleton is an award-winning Melbourne-based writer. She reviews books for Australian Book Review and music and theatre for Australian Stage.

More by Carol Middleton ›

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Related articles & Essays