A book at a time

(Above: the stunning geometry of Seattle Public Library)

I await my new Kindle with excitement (thank you, my love). I have been without one for a while and reading on the Kindle app in my phone, which is slow and unstable, means that not much reading happens.

When it arrives, it will be the 4th Kindle I’ve owned. I destroyed my first and second ones (dropped them, shattering one and rendering the screen of the other, a tartan artwork), loaned my mother the third, then had no heart to ask for it back after seeing her read again, something which she had great difficulty with after my Dad died – an alarming thing for a woman who taught me to devour books by example.

But while I await my new device, I have also resolved to do something counter intuitive to my shiny new, back-lit, extra contrasty, paper-like device:

Travel with a book. A real one.

Library books rest on a foot stool in my room in Singapore
Library books rest on a foot stool in my room in Singapore

Just one at a time, because I have baggage limits. But one that tears, folds and has pages I can grasp between my fingers, handling the texture like I cannot with a device.

I’m a big advocate of the Kindle – one small device that ports an entire library is a miracle for someone constantly on the move. But in the last couple of years, the enormous amount of time I’ve spent in Singapore has brought back a forgotten pleasure: checking books out from the library. Libraries are my favourite places in the world for many reasons, one of them being that I get to bring good books home to read in comfort & privacy. I can only do this in Singapore though, where I have a card.

There really isn’t anything like curling up / sprawling out with a good book and dare I say it…. turning pages. Not having them fold menus out every time some new emails or messages pling in, or stalling and crashing when I’ve flipped a page too fast, or drying my eyes out from backlight. Not needing to plug the book in after an hour because its battery is running low. Having a collection of pages lie in my hand in a format and experience largely unchanged since humans figured out how to bind documents together is a special kind of bliss.

Library, Angkor Wat.
Library, Angkor Wat.

I’ve missed it madly.

In the USA, a novel I pay $9.99 US dollars for in electronic format, I can conceivably get for 99 cents used from the same retailer. Isn’t that crazy? Cost of material, manufacture, distribution, warehousing and shipping… all less than the virtual delivery of bits and bytes.

(Is there an equivalent of “used” in the virtual world? Or does information fade into the archives of irrelevance or out-of-copyright?)

So I will start my little one-book-at-a-time project in the USA, when we land in January. If anyone who meets me on the road wants to do a swap and refresh my one-book library, I’m game. Hit me up.

Dehiwala Central Library. Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Dehiwala Central Library. Colombo, Sri Lanka.



  1. Fran Oldham says:

    I hope you enjoy your Kindle when you get it. I don’t travel enough these days even to consider whether I could learn to find reading on a tablet acceptable. I tried reading on a Kindle and then on an iPad when both were new and thoroughly disliked it.
    Until then I had been buying and reading mostly paperbacks with the result that one end of my house is so overloaded that I’m afraid it may sink into the mound on which it was built. Since trying the tablets I’ve rediscovered libraries and read their books but get some news on my iPad.
    I completely agree about the pleasure one can get from books. There’s something about books that doesn’t come across from a tablet. But I can see that stashing half a dozen books on a kindle or an iPad would beat lugging that much paper around when one is traveling.

    1. Charlene says:

      I’ve tried travelling with books, Fran, but it’s impractical. 5 extra kilos is a lot of weight when you’ve got to lug bags for kilometres that include stairs (did this in Montreal and Barcelona).

      I will say reading on a Kindle takes some getting used to, but it’s a practical solution. If I had a permanent place, it would also face sinkage from books… so maybe it’s a good thing I don’t!

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