Saturday, September 05, 2015


My attempts to lead a well-ordered life have once again been defeated by animals. This time, I have a decomposing rat underneath the floor of my office and a hornets' nest in the building where I store my books. I'm not quite sure what to do, other than stay away until it gets colder.

I shouldn't have to wait too long. The weather already feels distinctly autumnal and it can't be long before the hornets begin to feel sleepy and the rat has become a dried husk. At that point I'll start working again and hope that I can secure enough stock to make the business viable.

Next week, I begin two years of driving my sons in opposite directions across the Sussex countryside to their respective schools. I'm not looking forward to it. Getting my older son out of the house will be a challenge in itself, without the added complication of rush hour traffic. I wish we had hover cars.

For some reason, I've recently grown tired of reading novels on a Kindle and have returned to buying real books. I've no idea why.

My younger son is delighted, as he has always been a staunch opponent of ebooks. I don't know why he took against the Kindle at such a young age, but my experience tallies with the anecdotal evidence of other parents, who have noticed how one sibling will prefer reading on a tablet device while the other will only accept traditional books.

My son says that he finds it satisfying to look at all the books he's read and I know exactly what he means. Some of my favourite reads of the last few years - Of Human Bondage, South Riding and Clayhanger are conspicuous by their absence from my shelves and I'm tempted to order cheap copies for the bookcase.

Have reports of the death of the book been greatly exagerrated? I've read articles claiming that the seeming inexorable rise in ebook sales is bottoming out, with only single digit growth in the US. It will be interesting to see what happens.

I have been out a lot during the last few weeks, but very little of it would make interesting reading. I had intended to write a post about a new Bridget Riley exhibition, but sadly I had to leave after five minutes as the paintings were giving me a terrible headache. I'm not sure if that was her intention.

Instead, here are a few photos from the last ten days:

When things are less malodorous at work, I'll try and find some amusing bookish ephemera to post. In the meantime, expect more moody shots of clouds.


Lucy Melford said...

Mmmm,very effective photos, Steerforth! I recognise Bexhill and Lewes Castle. Somewhere on Chichester Harbour, like Chidham?

I too find ebooks unappealing, and vastly prefer a book I can hold and turn the pages of, a physical object with an individual history.


Dale said...

A painter once explained to me why moody clouds and brooding clouds and threatening clouds and crying clouds were the very stuff that artists sought. Bother the bland and the blue-skied variety; it's the drama, stupid. I'll take your interesting landscapes and moody skies as long as you keep dishing them up, Steerforth. And thank you for them.

To dead trees: About 25 years ago I was asked to address a public audience at my country's National Library on the topic of "The Death of the Book". (PCs had arrived on the scene and people were newly fascinated with their potential.) At first I thought "I know nothing about that..." but then rapidly followed that thought with "...and neither does anyone else", so I accepted the invitation.

My argument became that if books were eventually replaced by another form of reading, it would be because humans had found something else that they preferred. The decision would be ours. Remarkably, I still think this. It's possible I'm a slow learner.

I think the needs of both your sons will be met by the forms reading is available in, in the future. Each format may specialise in a particular type of reading - print ephemera may vanish, but I doubt that bookcases will. The economics of it might prove to be the final decider.

Though booksellers may find themselves in the position of a flogger of clay tablets in a market in ancient Mesopotamia when news rode in from Egypt of this clever, lightweight and portable new invention, papyrus. For all its drawbacks, including its vulnerability to damage and destruction, we went with the papyrus. The decision was ours then, too.

Interesting times, then and now.

George said...

You have my heartfelt sympathy. We have no hornets, but we did have rats this year, and my wife, whose nose is better than mine, claims that she can smell some that have died in the walls or under the floor. She would be happy to have me take a sledgehammer to plaster if she were confident that she could locate the source of the smell; as it is, we did saw out some square feet of drywall from the basement ceiling (which was then a work in progress). I wish you luck.

lyn said...

I agree with your son. I also enjoy being able to look (& gloat over) the books I've read & even more so over the books I haven't read yet. I still read on the Kindle as well but I have terrible trouble remembering what's on it. I do love it for old, OP classics but I find that I prefer buying a physical copy of a book if it's in print even if I could download the eBook for free.
sorry about the rat & hornet problem. Hope they disappear soon.

Steerforth said...

Lucy - It's not Chichester Harbour, it's Mersea Island in Essex - I actually managed to leave Sussex for a few days! Essex wouldn't have been my first choice, but my mother-in-law lives there.

Dale - I can see the more ephemeral publications like magazines, newspapers and Dan Brown novels switching to an entirely electronic format, but as the quote says, books do furnish a room. In the same way that many of us desire furniture built by craftsmen rather than machines, I'm sure that beautifully-produced books will
continue to be in demand.

George - The smell does seem to go after a while, so in the meantime I'd advise an air purifier with a HEPA filter. The worst thing about dead rats, other than the smell, is the sense of contamination. After an hour of being in my office, I wanted to go home, have a bath and change my clothes.

Lyn - I think Kindles are very useful for the OP classics and also the sorts of thrillers that one wouldn't want on the bookshelves, but I find it very hard to read non-fiction on them.

Anne Roy said...

Wonderful photos ... great moody clouds.

I have a Kindle and it has lots of things to read on it ... mostly due to Gutenberg but I too prefer a real book. I always have one of them in my handbag as well as the Kindle.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

I love the clouds , so much better than our constant dark , driving rain .

Kindles are fine if you always know precisely what you want to read next . But so much of the fun of reading is the discovery of new authors , new books . Bookshops . Libraries .

joan.kyler said...

Funny, I've recently decided that as much as I love the convenience of my Kindle, I'm getting less keen on reading on it. It's hard to flip back to find parts I want to remember, and I have trouble remembering names and can't easily flip about to find the names I'm looking for. But all the books on my Kindle take up no space, whereas my paper books do.

Lovely and dramatic clouds. Keep them coming! I live in the city and can hardly ever even see clouds.

Amy said...

I wonder if part of the reason ebooks are plateauing in sales is the price. Right before I read this post, I read another blogger who wrote that she'd gone on to Amazon to buy Jonathan Franzen's latest when it came out last Tuesday. She'd intended to buy it for her Kindle, but realized that (at least last Tuesday, I think it's changed), the hardcover was actually cheaper than the ebook. Crazy.

Steerforth said...

Anne - Yes, Project Gutenberg is a marvellous idea and I've discovered many hidden gems which I've read on a Kindle. The fact that so many out of print titles can be republished is a major attraction.

Smitonius - I agree that it's very hard to browse for books online, which is why so many people indulge in the practice of 'showrooming'. I know that Jonathan at Bookseller Crow gets very frustrated when people blatantly look at Amazon on their phones while they're browsing through his shelves.

Joan - Space was one of the deciding factors for me too, as I live in a small terraced house. But it is maddening not being able to flick back - I've never quite got the hang of bookmarking and all the other features, so I'm usually loath to go back.

Amy - Price is certainly a factor, but it's also the realisation that when you buy an ebook, you never truly own it. I also bought the Franzen in hardback (which I'm enjoying) and was really pleased to have a big, chunky hardback with an attractive dustjacket.

zmkc said...

I'm growing so old I find myself unable to get passionate on one side or another of many arguments, including the e-book/paper book one. Ebooks are wonderfully useful when travelling or stuck in a waiting room and as such I never want them to go away, but paper books are the original and the best and much better for cleaning your fingernails (apparently, I wouldn't know, I've just been told by filthy friends, hem hem hem hem hem hem)

Steerforth said...

Zoe - I had no idea that paper books were used for that purpose. I've used some for kindling (the best sort of kindle) in my stove, mainly for the pleasure of seeing people's faces as I ripped the pages out and threw them into the flames (they were due to be recycycled anyway), but nail cleaning is a new one.

I agree about the usefulness of ebooks when travelling - if I ever travel by air again, I think I'll be able to get away with just hand luggage.

Grey Area said...

I have a wasp's nest in the tree that overhangs my garden but belongs to a neighbour - a couple of years ago I had to tell them that they had a large colony of rats under their shed that were coming into my garden and I wanted them to deal with it (i.e traps or poison etc) - but as they had small children, I thought I should talk to them first - it was meant well but created a certain amount of awkwardness - so I'm trying to avoid it again this time. The tree is huge and is starting to block out light but I like it - so I may just wait for it to cool down as well.

Book wise, I'm buying more books myself and looking forward to the Xmas stock arriving in the shops - book design has been so much better recently - possibly because they really do have to try harder to compete with digital devices (I never bothered, they were not designed for me) and books are becoming a visual and tactile delight again, and I suppose it's also because I'm nearly 50 I've reached an age when people are writing with some skill and thoughtfulness about things that have happened in my lifetime - so my shelves are happily groaning.

Erika said...

Books are preferable, but the Kindle is good for guilty reading, travel or books I just haven't been able to acquire as yet. But there has been recent research which suggests that something read in hard copy is more likely to be remembered that something read electronically.

I can't get the hang of bookmarking electronically and I do find that frustrating. Also just flicking through a book to get to a particular section.

Nothing replaces a book as an object - of beauty, as an historical artifact, as a TARDIS.

Steerforth said...

Richard - I agree about recent book design. I went into Waterstones last week (much better than it used to be) and was very impressed with the quality and appearance of many of the titles. Tablets can't compete with most of the art books I saw, or the children's illustrated titles. Things look more positive than they did five years ago, when the ebook rise seemed unstoppable and Waterstones was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Erika - I'm glad I'm not the only person who can't work out bookmarking. I think my enthusiasm for the Kindle was a reaction to having to spend my working day handling dusty old books.

NPCC said...

I share appreciation of the Kindle's. portability, but for bath time reading, paper books have less of a downside when dropped accidentally .

Lucy R. Fisher said...

I'd read more books in paper form if they weren't so big and heavy. Publishers - novels don't need to be that long! The paper doesn't need to be that thick, either, or the margins so wide. Why not bring back the three-volume novel and the India-paper edition? Just remember that some keen readers have arthritis and like to read on the bus. Think about it. (I sometimes slice books into sections, especially omnibus editions.)

Steerforth said...

NPCC - Many years ago, I thought of trying to produce bath books for adults. I did nothing about it and eventually someone else came up with the same idea. Their bath books flopped, sadly, but I'm still sure that there must be a market for waterproof books.

Lucy - I wouldn't want to see the triple-decker return, although you could argue that quite a few existing trilogies are really one very long novel. However, I did regret buying the latest Jonathan Franzen in hardback when I dropped it on my foot, a few days ago. Kindles are certainly better if you're arthritic and they also have the added benefit of changeable fonts. That's good to know, as most large print books I come across are of novels I wouldn't read in a million years.