I was so happy on Friday, to be digging around the paperback section of Halfprice Books. One of my finds was a little collection of prose musings and essays by Laurie Lee, who authored one of my very favourite books Cider With Rosie.
Cider With Rosie is a childhood memoir whose resonance goes beyond its beautiful, lyrical writing. It evokes life in a rural British village sitting unsuspectingly on the cusp of great change, brought about by cars, media and of course, World War II and its concomitant societal alterations. As such, it has become somewhat of a swan song for a way of life.
Lee’s essays are brilliant pieces of writing, punctuated by heart soaring truths couched in straightforward but keenly selected observations. However, in the more revealing form of straight prose, it is easy to see that at times, he was somewhat obdurate in the face of societal change. He became a father late and in his tender and truthful letter to his daughter, The Firstborn, there are flashes of suspicion of new fangled ideas.
Oh we’re often pretty rubbish with New Fangled Things. The internet will rot your brain you know and before that it was video games, television and Elvis’ pelvis. Lamenting change is entirely natural and often valid. Until, that is, it becomes unhelpful and irrelevant. The problem is that unless it is in your power to reverse change, endlessly grieving its arrival contributes nothing.
Whilst I was happily stocking up on paperbacks I questioned my pursuit of a little library to call my own. For someone who lives between nations, filling a bookshelf is highly impractical. A Kindle would really make more sense.
When it comes to words, even the Kindle is the littlest element in a cultural shift. Nowadays, everything is different because of internet reading. We read short things, quick things; the less scrolling the better. Everything talks to each other on the internet in a much more loud and immediate way. Titles and first paragraphs are more important [click to read the whole article] than cover illustrations and backcover blurb. It’s all hooks and hyperlinks.
I read an article in the Guardian this week about Amanda Hocking who has sold over a million books self-publishing on the internet (the Arctic Monkeys of the literary world). Viral recommendation has become a major gatekeeper in publishing as well as music. The routes are different, the way is different, words will inevitably be used and formed differently and it’s good, bad, beautiful, ugly and wonderfully alive.
Yet still, I find myself picking through paperbacks in Halfprice Books and wanting to own a hard copy of every book I ever love. Funnily enough, the reason is partly Laurie Lee. I read Cider With Rosie for comfort, almost in circles and its physical presence is part of that. I remember the pages. I return to sections of other books for their brilliance, for the perfect words they offer for certain moments or truths. Or for their sensations. And what’s more, after each few years of living, books have different things to say to you. I don’t just read my books, I converse with them. Then there’s the completer-finisher’s satisfaction of being able to see one’s progress through a tome. And the covers! Who can resist this distinct brand of retro-glory? I know that many people feel the same about books, they are so loved that I don’t think that the form will die anytime soon.
I’m allowing myself, therefore, to indulge my paperback collecting but I don’t want to become a stalwart about their superiority as a way of reading. My children are the inheritors of this new world and in more ways than just books. I will be doing them a disservice if I don’t prepare them for it, snobbishly making them play with sticks in the garden like it’s 1982 and boasting to other parents that my corduroy-clad darlings think that a Wii is something you do in the toilet. I plan to build a house that homes the different generations, the both/and scenario of the cherished furled page and all the wiki, wiki, wah, wahs of the world wide web we’re spinning in.
I’ll be the cool mum who shouts out “L.O.L!” at the school play.