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Karin Schimke

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

I may get to love an e-reader but I’ll never be touchy-feely with it

My friends rave to me about buying an entire thesaurus for about ten cents, about reading War and Peace for free, about no longer having book clutter.

The e-reader is no longer on the horizon. It is here.

But I haven’t caught the fever yet.

When my house gets too full of books, I give them away. Sometimes I leave books I’ve enjoyed in public places, remembering the time I found a paperback on the Tube in London when I had nothing to read and no money.

Beg and borrow are noble reading traditions after all.

Also, I’m an inveterate book fondler and I suspect the excitement of stroking and sniffing an e-reader will wear off after just one book.

My friend Lisa – whose house is stacked floor to ceiling with books – recently got an e-reader.

“It’s nicer than I thought it would be,” she told me, “but the funny thing is, as soon as the book is finished, I forget the story and the characters immediately.

“Sometimes I forget I’ve read the book. That never happens with proper books.”

Is it the tactility of books – the heft and weight of them, the texture and smell of the pages, the crack of the binding glue – that makes them memorable, we wondered.

This month a hardcover arrived in my pile for review. The title is This Is Not The End Of The Book, a conversation between Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere, curated by Jean-Philippe de Tonnac.

The words of the title are spread right across the dust cover from the back to the front, so that you don’t see the entire title simply by looking at the front of the book. That is memorable.

What is memorable too is the easy conversation inside its pages between two indomitable minds. Are Eco and Carriere predicting the end of the book? Are the lamenting that predicted end? I don’t know yet.

I am in the foothills of their extended conversation – an open-mouthed eavesdropper in the presence of beautiful brains.

The book is not just a celebration of the written word, but also of conversation, a pastime perhaps more threatened than the printed book.

I also finished The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, an odd and lovely novel about a girl who is tortured by her mouth, an organ which picks up the nuances of feeling in the food people cook. What a gentle and unusual take on family relations, what a tasty read.

The quickest book this month was Smut by that very English, very dry Alan Bennett.

Fist-sized and short – perfect for winter nights when you only want one hand exposed to the cold – the little yellow book contains two stories as sweetly subversive as The Uncommon Reader, an earlier Bennett story about the Queen of England becoming a book borrower at the Westminster travelling library which calls once a week at the palace.

If paper books are doomed to death by screens, I’m making the best of their dying days by sniffing and fondling the real printed thing all the more passionately.

I can imagine loving an e-reader, but that’s just one thing to love. Whereas each bound wad of words I thumb and weight is a brand new love affair that stretches beyond the story it contains, imprinting itself on all my senses.


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