English-language books are sparse in South America so I’d been desperate for a good read for a while. I’d been very generously given files of books to read on my computer so I've got all the classics – from Carroll to Chekhov and from Kipling to Dickens; I’ve got all the titles by my favourite author, E M Forster; I’ve got poetry by all the greats, too. But it's not the same.
I came from England last year with a ration of two paperback books that I managed to stretch out over a few months, but by the time I hit Argentina, I was in need of a novel. The bookshops of Buenos Aires had small sections of ‘Pocket Books’– a euphemism for English books – but my eyes scanned and scanned the spines to see nothing but modern trash written by unknown authors. Finally, on a dusty hostel bookcase, I scavenged a 1986 copy of The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles. A young Meryl Streep’s face peering out from the cover reminded me I had seen the film version years back, and somewhat enjoyed it, so the book must be worth a go.
The battered book stayed wedged down the side of my backpack as a mammoth voyage across the continent ensued. When I finally settled in Cusco, had time to unpack, and even more time to sit and read, I at long last opened the cover of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and turned those first, delightfully aged and yellowed pages. I brought the book up to my nose and drank in the musty smell from the antiquated paper. And I settled down into what was to be one of the best stories I’ve read.
Would I have enjoyed it half as much if I read it on my odourless, clinical laptop screen? I don’t think so.
Since bookless, I have made several attempts to start reading my favourite books from their computer files – A Room with a View, Howard’s End, Through the Looking Glass, Wordsworth’s poems. But something just isn’t quite right.
Of all the books I have read in my life, I can remember the physical book as well as – or even as part of – the actual story. I remember my 1970s series of Famous Five books that lined my childhood bookcase; the big old hardback copy of Peter Pan and Wendy with its colour plates; and then I remember my first borrowed copy of Wuthering Heights; and, for me, A Room with a View will always be associated with a sturdy hardback borrowed from the library that I got sand between all the pages as I read it on the beach one summer between college years.
So now I have a vast digital library full of great books, but will I ever read them? I suspect not in that form.
No, not for me the Kindle, iPad or any other electronic device to read my stories; no, I’m going to wait for the next crumpled, fusty tome abandoned on a shelf and with which I can delve deliciously into another time, another place.
Do you agree with Rachel? Do you prefer the tactile joy of a real 'book' or the convenience of eBooks? Tell us in the comments below.
Rachel Travels is not your average travel blog – you will not find a journal of her daily activities in South America. Instead, she hopes to paint a fuller, deeper, more honest picture of what life is really like for a traveller on the road, with no particular destination.
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