Wake Up Charlie Dragon! I first read this book around 1987 and now at the age of 29, I still have a sticky-taped together copy, which I’ll read with delight many more times when I have a child one day.I can clearly remember my mother reading the story of Charlie, a dragon who was asleep for almost a year and all of the animals in the jungle trying to wake him up. The pictures were carefully drawn, all bright and with so much detail and imagination – the colourful Easter eggs and birthday presents, the expressions on the monkeys’ faces, the many creatures turning each page into something fun and fascinating.
I grew up in Zimbabwe and whenever my aunt who lived in London would visit, she’d bring books for my siblings and I. These gifts fed my imagination. Reading about a tiger who lost his stripes or about a very hungry caterpillar entertained us again and again, especially reading and poking my little finger through the small round holes in the pages of where the caterpillar had been munching.I drew pictures of what I’d seen in the books, I re-told the stories to my cousins and even pretended to be characters from some of the books – what a joy to be able to eat three purple plums, an ice cream cone, a wedge of Swiss cheese and some cherry pie and then turn into a rainbow coloured butterfly!
The classic story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is now a global brand, with merchandise from pencil cases and stationary to stuffed toys and puzzles. The success of the book has allowed this to happen. You could probably download the story to read to your children but they wouldn’t get the satisfaction of turning the pages and finding out what yummy surprises come next or in the clever, particular feature of this book, feeling the punch-sized holes that leave a trail through the pages.I suspect that many parents won’t cease to own a copy of this book.
My mother also took me to the local library. A world where books huddled together in rows and information overflowed. I remember the chemical smell of ink in the heavy encyclopaedias that we used for school research projects.The older books had torn pages and yellow patches sometimes blurred sentences. Of course nowadays you can Google what you’re looking for, you can copy and paste extracts online but somehow reading a thesaurus and stumbling upon new words has more of a sense of achievement for me. But others would argue; why carry heavy reference books when you have Wikipedia?
I see how the digital word is advancing and how technology saves time and makes work easier in many ways but I also see the basic bond and personal experience of acquiring knowledge and getting lost in a novel in the palm of your hands, of having a well-stocked bookshelf to pick and choose from.
I work in the website industry and realise the damages of information overload online where I’m constantly bombarded with text and jargon. Not only is my posture and eyesight suffering but that feeling of joy isn’t felt via a screen as it is after understanding Shakespeare from a well-read library edition with pencil marks of frustration or appreciation.
With e-readers, Kindles, phone apps and iPads, many people don’t see the need for books. So will people cease to own books in the future?
I feel this is divided. With libraries closing and those petitioning to keep them open, there will always be a battle for books.
Bookshop chain Waterstones has recently launched a new advertising campaign that includes large posters on the London Underground as well as on billboards. The campaign focuses on the benefits of shopping in actual bookshops with catchy phrases such as; ‘Even the most ardent reader will never reach the end of a good bookshop‘, ‘A good book will keep you fascinated for days, a bookshop for your whole life‘ and ‘Books you can’t put down are much easier to find when you can actually pick them up‘.
Even if you can’t read, there’s an interest in turning pages and examining intricate symbols and pictures, perhaps you’ve experienced a similar feeling whilst browsing a book in a foreign language.Books such as Harry Potter have brought generations together, appealing to all ages.There’s also that feeling of excitement when you’re in a bookstore and discover something new or an old favourite that’s been re-printed. The association of tradition, familiarity and pride with novels, recipes, picture books and coffee table books can’t be replaced with online text and images.
I have recipes in an exercise book from my food and nutrition classes aged 13. We were made to write down recipes on the lined paper with the instructions clearly and neatly presented. This book currently lives on my kitchen table but is not so neat any more. Most pages are stained with butter or dried smudges of chocolate batter and crumbs are trapped in the binding but the memories of making short crust pastry for my end of term exam motivate me to bake regularly using these familiar and trusted recipes. I doubt I’d get the same pleasure by following an edited recipe from my laptop. The nostalgia and experience isn’t quite the same.
Similarly, adults pass down tips and well trusted recipe books to their children and grandchildren. Knowing that my grandmother made almond biscuits 40 years ago and I’m making the exact same ones now from the flour dusted and rather crumbled page, brings a smile to my face.Recently published books by Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson also prove that kitchens can still accommodate books as both editions have rocketing sales and remain bestsellers. This proves that the demand for books is still prominent.
The ability to access news and information instantly via websites, social media and digital devices has its advantages yet at the same time people still buy newspapers and newsagents continue to stock magazines. New titles are also being published in a time when digital media seems to dominate. The popular monthly magazine Men’s Health recently launched Women’s Health, a glossy that has been well received. This gives me an indication of how things will be in the future regarding books.
When I think of the phrase don’t judge a book by its cover, I believe that ultimately we can’t predict what will happen in the future but we can judge the present where books are constant topics of interest – so now I’m off to that book signing at a well known department store.