The Quaint Desire to Have Books on Your Shelf

I couple of few weeks ago, I pasted into my Commonplace Book this delightful take on eBooks from China Miéville:

We are, at last, leaving phase one of the ebook discussion, during which people could ritually invoke the ‘smell of paper’ as a call to cultural barricades. Some anxieties are tenacious: how will people know what a splendid person I am without a pelt of the right visible books on my walls, without the pretty qlippoth husks? A hopeful future: that our grandchildren will consider our hankering for erudition-décor a little needy

This point clearly touched a nerve. It went semi-viral with 104 people reblogging it.

I confess to being precisely the kind of chauvinist for the physicality of books that Miéville mocks, though his framing makes me think I am being unnecessarily sentimental.

One argument in favour of physical books: they demand to be read. Sitting on the shelf, they are a Constant reminder of their unreadness. A physical book may inspire or guilt-trip its owner into picking it up, merely by virtue of its existence.

This is not the case with virtual books. Last week, I downloaded free e-book versions many of the classics featured on this Observer list of essential novels. However, the electronic files sit hidden away, in a virtual folder, within an app, concealed on the third screen of programmes on my device. Out of sight, out of mind. They cannot command my attention like tangible objects.

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