Friday, 13 February 2009

Book Lover

Books are sexy. Books are cheap. Books are a love affair that lasts a lifetime. These are just some of the reasons while every other shop in town was empty today, the book store Waterstones was heaving. When you decide to go for it with your writing and take that financial hit, you're prepared to give up a lot (time, sleep, haircuts, holidays, clothes, eating out - all the normal things you take for granted when you have two responsible grown ups bringing home the bacon). If you're juggling family with earning a living and writing you have to give up other stuff (as Joanne Harris said you learn to live with dust). The people you love also give up a lot - perhaps as Isabel Allende wrote 'writers are hard to live with', (I officially 'owe' the pilot a lightweight Land Rover ...) But the one thing I haven't given up is buying books.

Every time I've wobbled over the last year and thought (especially with two small children depending on us), I should have stuck with a 'proper' career, taken that job in Dubai setting up the auction house, I remember careers day back at school. They were encouraging all the girls to become engineers - my eyes were glazing over rapidly - then Wendy Cope stepped onto the stage. It was an epiphany. She was vibrant, smart, funny - her poetry was accessible but moving and well observed. Unlike all the engineers they had rolled out to talk to us, she looked like she loved her work.

To write and be paid well for it is the Holy Grail. DJ Taylor is quoted in the 'Writer's Handbook': 'It tends to be forgotten ... that Johnson wrote Rasselas to defray the expenses of his mother's funeral or that Dumas's terse, interrogative dialogue was the result of being paid so many centimes a line. If there is a single factor linking Joyce, Woolf and Conrad it is that they all at one time or another in the literary career submitted work to Titbits'. Even Dostoyevsky finally started writing only once the baliffs were at the door. Everybody starts somewhere.

The summer before university, one of my temp contracts was working at a paper mill. I spent a week in payroll with a chain-smoking Harley riding Hells Angel (she kept her lunchtime cider under her desk), before being spirited upstairs to be PA to the MD for the rest of the contract. It was probably more entertaining in payroll, but at least I saw the paper being manufactured - it was like going through the round window in Playschool, huge rolls of virgin white paper whizzing round, machines the size of houses. As a leaving gift the MD gave me as much paper as I could carry, (even then I was scribbling during lunch breaks). The scribbles were mostly rubbish no doubt - but the first story I ever sold was typed on that paper.

Maybe you're like me - I not only love writing, but I love books, paper, pens, the swoosh of ink when the words are flowing well. If you see a blank sheet of paper (let alone vast whirling reams of the stuff), don't you just want to write on it? A love of books, of words, is a love that will last a lifetime. From all the comments yesterday, everyone is feeling a bit humbugish about Valentine's Day so today why don't we celebrate true love? Single, married, partnered up - every one of us can enjoy curling up tonight by the fire or in bed with something satisfying that makes us think, laugh, cry or escape ... a relationship with a book is one of life's simple pleasures. And hey, if it doesn't work out, there's always the next one on the stack waiting to be read.

TODAY'S PROMPT: I love books because ...

  • they are the great escape
  • they are always there when you need them
  • they last for days, weeks, and often when you get back together years later they're just as much fun as you remember
  • they go where you go - and take you places you've never (or always) dreamt of
  • they are a great date - better value than the cinema or eating out
  • they are the only thing you can consume in quantity and not feel guilty
  • ... (what else can you come up with?) x


  1. The ones with smooth covers are a pleasure to caress with your fingers.

  2. Absolutely GB - once knew a rare book dealer who handled his stock with such loving care it was a joy to behold.

  3. I love to bring them to bed with me...
    And they don't complain when I fall asleep !

  4. because stories belong to everybody and just to you all at the same time.

    Have a lovely weekend Kate

  5. yeah, they are the only addiction I have that doesn't make me fat, apart from maybe sex but I doubt that sex twice a week makes me an addict!

  6. They make neat piles and still look good when they're dusty!
    Have a Happy Valentine's Day!

  7. ...because they're like bank accounts where language gets stockpiled and paid out, always when needed. (If you can't find a book to read, you just stopped looking too soon.)

    Never worked in a paper mill, thank God. But I did work for a couple years in the shipping department for what used to be Macmillan's (USA) main distrib center, loading boxes of books for distribution by truck to schools, bookstores, and even individuals:

    (1) What a graphic introduction to the sheer volume of books moving around the country at any one time.

    (2) What a great way to stay fit, picking up box after 30- or 40-pound box of books and then putting it down on a pallet.

    (3) Four words: "dumpster full of books." This was where the carton-packers tossed brand-new books with busted spines, sprung covers, water-stained pages. The damage was pretty much invisible to somebody who simply wanted to READ them (especially for the mere cost of a reach over the side of the thing).

  8. and yet, would you believe it, i'm willing to stop buying paper books once the e-book technology is a bit further along. as much as i love books, i love trees more...

  9. They can be an insurance. Whenever I have gone away, alone, on various courses, I always took piles of books I wanted to read in case no-one spoke to me. I always seemed to return with them unopened:)

  10. I love books because ...

    1.They don't need batteries!
    2. They are always better than the film
    3. They are instant entertainment
    4. They stop people speaking to you about rubbish when you're on your own in a train/bar/bus/plane
    5. Yet they may prompt strangers to talk to you about the book you are holding. That's OK unless it's "What you reading for?")
    6. They will never change format (sorry, I'll NEVER get one of those handheld electronic book thingies)
    7. You can take them anywhere (how many of you have snuck off on a toilet break at work because you need to read the next chapter?)
    8.They symbolise time for me and me alone.
    9.Buying them gives me a rush.
    10. I can't imagine life without them.

  11. yes i love everythng about and related to books.

    because books smell great.

    because they express the mystery.

  12. Kate, I hope this doesn't post twice, but the blasted thing kicked me out, so here goes again.
    Maggie Mae! You said it. When I was a child my mother found me with my nose buried in a book...literally. She asked me what the heck I was doing. When I told her that I was smelling the book she just shook her head, astounded again at my peculiarity.
    Didn't stop me. Kept smellin' those books. Ambrosia.
    Kathleen in VA

  13. I love paper and all that we associate it with. I love pressing a pen to paper and watching the ink bleed. I love the weight of a book in my hand. I love the covers and the fonts and all of it. I'm surrounded by many forms of paper as I type, and I keep a bit of paper and ink with me wherever I go.

  14. Scintilla - oh yes! How many of us have woken up with a book still open where we left off ..

    Megan - thanks, and you! That's the lovely thing about books (unlike films), they are different to every person who reads them.

    Emma - perhaps we could form a new group 'Book Lovers Anon'? It starts so nobly with lit and then one day you wake up surrounded by pulp fiction ...

    Scarlet - nothing makes 'home' feel more like home than books x

    John - dumpsters of books? Sounds like lucky dip heaven!

    Emily - ooh that's a tough one. I try and balance 'new' buys with second hand. Still not ready for electric.

    Pat - absolutely, book as armour/safety blanket! Always there when you need them.

    Misssy - yes, sneaking off with a book - stolen moments, it's a love affair all right!

    Maggie - yes! The smell of a new book in the morning ...

    Kathleen - ambrosia indeed (nothing guaranteed to make you love something more whether it's books or boyfriends than parental disapproval!)

    Marta - fonts! Oh yes. As an artist can completely see how you love them too. Calligraphy, stone carving - the sheer beauty of letters ...

    Happy Valentines to you all x

  15. Me love books!

    Talk about romance, love is always perfect in a book. What would drive you nuts in real life, is incredibly passionate in a book.

    You can learn a lot about a person by looking at their library.

    When you flip the pages really fast, you get that "whoof" of air and the smell of books rises to meet you.

    You can keep returning time and again to old favorites and find something new each time. And you can do so, even when they are tattered and yellowed and falling apart in your hands.

    They can make you feel safe and loved in a time of upheaval, and close up the world so it is cozy and welcoming

    They can enlighten you and get your brain moving. And open up the world so all its complexities are at your disposal.

    You can pass on best loved books like secrets to other people.

    Someone once told me, the reason why a box of books is so heavy is because you're carrying trees around. I like that idea. Do you think the spirit of the tree adds to the spirit of the words? I do.

    And I love blank books, too. My favorite are just the plain black hardbound sketchbooks without lines. Probably because the fancy ones are too special to mess up. But I love the feel of a smooth ink pen across a page. Words are pretty. They feel good. All around happiness.

  16. Hi Rowena - happy valentine's (hope it brought chocolate!) Lovely ideas here. Yes, when you are getting to know people/a new lover, their books are like a window to their soul. (Knew the pilot would be a good bet when his first ever present to me was a book). With you on the spirit of the tree/pulp/paper/book - absolutely. And notebooks? I have several fancy numbers I've never written a word in. I write on plain, cheap sketchbooks/A4 printer paper/Muji brown card backed numbers. I remember reading someone (Julia Cameron?) who advised buying notebooks that made you feel happy - whether they had pictures of Snoopy or crazy colours. That way there's no intimidation, no sense you have to get it right - you just write.


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