Kindles Don’t Smell

By Annette Walton, of Leeds, United Kingdom. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Has anybody seen the original Logan’s Run? It was a, ‘not bad for the time’ (1976), science fiction film that brought William Nolan and George Johnson’s tale of an idyllic, hedonistic, yet sinister society into peoples’ living rooms.

I watched it with the rest of my family one Christmas Eve, and even now recollect their collective vibe of shock when they discovered that the utopic world they had been marvelling at on screen was actually dystopic, and furthermore kept in equilibrium by its’ citizens’ untimely demise at the hands of The Carousel- a sinister device that had absolutely nothing to do with the circling, painted wooden horses variety.

Yes, Okay I admit , it was a particularly grim way to go, but it didn’t move me- not really, not anything like the scene that unfolded half an hour later, when the two main characters played by Michael York and Jenny Agutter, disillusioned and obviously not in any great hurry to die anytime soon, exchange their ‘perfect’ world for post-apocalyptic Washington D.C and stumble across the ivy-clad remains of the US Senate’s library.

Watching their introduction to books for the very first time, courtesy of a self-imposed, cat crazy curator, played majestically by Peter Ustinov, I can still remember my feeling of disbelief as I turned to my mother and said, ” Imagine never having seen a book in your life…in a way it would be really exciting finding one for the first time, but I just can’t imagine it..”

Thirty-six years later and I still struggle with the idea of a world without books. Recently I met up with an old friend for coffee. A fellow bibliophile and book club aficionado, she arrived brandishing her most recent purchase- a Kindle E-reader. Shoving the metallic red, and yes I will agree, aesthetically pleasing rectangle into my hands, she proceeded to spend the next half hour trying to convert me. Strange words such as; PDF support, default format, 800 resolution, backlights and electronic ink assaulted my brain until finally I could take no more and handing the object back with the sort of haste Frodo from Lord of the Rings would have been well advised to adopt when considering what to do with his jewellery acquisition , said in what was probably a more frenetic voice than completely necessary,

“Yes but… but what about the smell? Where’s the smell?

You see the thing is, I do get it. I know that the age of technology, which started so tentatively back in the 80’s has grown legs and is giving Usain Bolt a run for his money. Having taught for a while in primary schools, I’ve stood back in admiration as six year olds manoeuvred their way through lessons using Ipads with more efficiency, and a great deal more enthusiasm than a pen and paper. I’ve noticed a lack of rustle on my early morning train commute as fellow passengers discard their broadsheets for a more hi-tech option. I’ve been witness to an ever growing need for instant gratification and ease when it comes to acquiring information. I do not exclude myself from this group. Many an occasion has seen me seek Nigella’s culinary wisdom via electronic means rather than rummage through my piles of well worn and food stained recipe books. I have also taken great delight in my Iphone, although it has to be said many of the apps including the ‘book store’ have been left on the proverbial shelf.

But here’s the thing. And the reason why I believe books will not be, one day, consigned to a decaying and forgotten tomb in some government building . We are human, and as a result have the capacity to forge physical and emotional relationships, which form the core of our lives, and anybody who has ever held, loved or coveted a book will know that the accompanying feelings are not dissimilar to the ones we derive from our lovers, our parents, our children, our friends or indeed our pets.

Our relationship with the book is a ph ysical, tangible, sensual thing. Who hasn’t raised a new book to their noses to smell the pages? I know it‘s mad and inexplicable but it has to be done . What lover of words and stories hasn’t almost salivated as they opened a new, carefully chosen book for the very first time and started to turn the pages.

A persons relationship with a book can have a strange power that is almost magical. It can beguile, enchant, mystify and sometimes torment. My daughter Lorna, who has shared my passion for books since she discovered her hands were more than just appendages, is not only a habitual page sniffer, but has also been known to hurl her books at walls as a storyline took a twist she didn’t like- only to be find moments later clutching the offending article with a tenderness not dissimilar to a mother’s love for her infant.

Whilst the story or information within its pages can transport the reader to other worlds, places, times, the book itself also has the strange ability to reconnect its owner to special and significant moments in their life- almost like a magic carpet to their memories. The mere sight of Dr Zeus and The Cat in the Hat and I am immediately cast back, cosy warm to the crook of my mother’s arm. Laughing delightedly at our shared enjoyment of the mad feline’s antics and our closeness as her familiar, freckled hand turned the pages.

I have difficulty imagining that words in any other format would have a similar power. And feel quite strongly that sniffing an electronic reading device in public or hurling one at a wall and then gathering it tenderly back to your chest could at the very least have uncomfortable consequences.

What I cannot deny is indisputable, is that around the world and across the ages mankind has had an inherent need and compulsion to communicate and pass on information, facts and stories, and as the first book, in the form that we now recognise it, wasn‘t created until around 600 BCE this desire has had to rely on another medium to be satisfied.

So I ask myself. Is it that important how words get out into the public arena, just as long as they continue to do so? “Weren’t books just an evolutionary stepping stone in man’s drive towards the ultimate and most efficient means of communication?” And is it possible that way back in 600 BCE the book was viewed with the same apprehension, suspicion and disdain that I am currently viewing its electronic competitors. Maybe so. But I’m still not convinced, and I will be continuing my relationship with my books, cherishing, loving and smelling them, while ever they continue to be around.


P.S.: in the interests of authenticity the author would like it to be known that an online dictionary was used in the writing of this blog. She does not intend to make a habit of this.

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