Helen Martin: Gadget’s re-Kindled my love of literature

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IN the early Sixties, when the rest of the girls were knitting mittens or embroidering tray cloths (does anyone still remember them?), my job was to read to the class, leaving the teacher free to do marking. I have always loved reading and loved books.

Going on holiday, I happily jettison shoes from the packing case if it means I can take another couple of books within the baggage allowance. I’ll easily get through a good book in one day on holiday.

It was a love affair I thought would never end. From the moment I began chapter one until I reached the final word, I lived in those pages, leaving them reluctantly to eat, sleep or work, and returning to pick up the tale as if I’d never been away. I used to pig out on five library books at a time to feed my insatiable appetite.

But now I wonder if I’ll ever pick up a book again. For I have been Kindled; although to be fair, the cracks in my relationship with the library were beginning to show before that little flat screen came into my life.

Apparently late fees from libraries have earned the city nearly £400,000 in recent years. Late fees are a sore point with me. Since the new self- service borrowing and returning machines came in I have had not one, not two, but five emails from my local library telling me a book was overdue. On one occasion, having replied to the email and forgotten about it, I was threatened with court proceedings.

None of the books was, in fact late. They were all back home, on the library shelf where they belonged, well within the due date . . . as the library discovered each time when they went to check. For some reason the machine hadn’t read the bar code, or the book didn’t scan, or the scan didn’t register, or whatever.

Every time it happened – again – I became angrier and angrier. The emails were generated automatically by the system. There was nothing the librarians could do to stop it. There was no point in my replying to their emails because no-one read the replies. They just kept cancelling the charges and apologising. My passionate relationship with the library that had endured for 50 years was falling apart. Like a philandering husband who shows remorse, begs forgiveness and then starts another affair, the library’s apologies were wearing thin.

It was then that my real husband pulled off a master stroke and bought me a Kindle for Christmas. Now I have my very own library at my fingertips. It contains a vast selection of free, out-of-copyright material as well as some of the latest and hotly-awaited bestsellers at half price.

It’s a treasure trove of new, exciting authors who I’ve discovered I love and whose books are available for pennies or a couple of pounds. It has a built-in dictionary and shop. And a storage archive. It will even read to me if I can’t be bothered.

Books download in seconds. There’s no risk of losing my place. It’s slimmer and lighter than a book, slips neatly into a handbag no matter how many volumes it carries, and takes up virutally no room in a suitcase. I no longer need to go barefoot on holiday or cope with a solitary pair of sandals. It can even be a fashion statement itself with accessories like brightly coloured leather cases and clip-on lights.

It needn’t be a Kindle of course; other makes and brands of e-readers are available. But the principle is the same.

And no-one is more surprised than me by the way I have taken to it. I thought I’d always want to hold a book, and to respond to its cover design. People who love books love the smell, the pristine aroma of a brand new book (like a new car) or the musty mystery and dusty delights of an old or second-hand book. Even the library has a smell.

The simple act of turning a page is something I thought I’d always enjoy. Now I press a button.

Already I’m imagining what I could do with all the space in our home that is taken up with bookshelves. We could de-clutter and extend our rooms and living space at a stroke.

I don’t know if I’m in the first hot flush of a new fascination and will crawl back to books with my tail between my legs when the novelty has worn off, or if this is the real thing.

Thinking about how books can be passed to friends and family at no extra cost, I thought I’d found its feet of clay. But then other family members with the same tastes in reading material got e-readers, and we have hatched a plan to swap from time to time and read each other’s downloads. And I know I have finally kissed goodbye to spurious overdue library charges.

But I’m embarrassed and ashamed by how quickly my head’s been turned and how I have wantonly betrayed my once beloved books. If only I could stop feeling so guilty . .