I Keep a Penny on My Bedside Table

I keep a penny on my bedside table. In fact, I keep quite a few. There’s a little stack of them there and sometimes my watch or my glasses knock them over and I have to stack them up again.

They are my bookmarks.

When I’m finished reading at night, I take one of the pennies and stick it in the crease of the book, at the page I am stopping at, then I close the book tightly on it. I like to keep the penny near the outside edge of the page. That way, I can see a hint of the coin within, a small gap to act as a gauge of how far through my book I am.

You would think that one penny would suffice but that’s not the case. When I climb into bed at night and open the book, the penny falls out on the bedclothes and it either sits there or rolls away. Part of the fun comes at the end of the reading-session – the sleepy game of trying to lay a hand on the penny that is lurking somewhere on the duvet. Sometimes it is right there to hand and that can be gratifying, almost as if someone is looking out for my reading routine and keeping it in shape. As often as not, though, the penny will be nowhere to be found and another penny will have to be selected off the stack on the bedside table and dropped into the book. That lost penny will often turn up later as a cold pebble in among the warm sheets. It gets returned to the stack. In that way, new pennies are rarely needed. The penny stack is in perpetual motion but it is also pretty much self administering.

This is just a tiny part of the reason why I haven’t yet come to terms with using a Kindle.

Like everybody else, I’ve been reading forever. I’ve always got a couple of books on the go. I think, for me, reading is almost like a sacrament. There are rituals and practices to be observed, places to do it, things which should never be done. These ‘habits’ which I have developed in relation to the reading of a book are both calming and moment-defining. 

These long days are so full of non-tactile, technological, matters. Screens and keypads, calculators and tinny voices berating us from the ether. To arrive at the end of one of these long days and then to seek out more screens and buttons and such… to me it just seems illogical. It is a bit like a person who lays out deckchairs on a beach all day returning to that beach in the evening to sit on one of his own chairs. He wouldn’t. He would want to be far, far away, someplace with no speck of coarse sand and no hint of folding equipment.

Don’t get me wrong. I have read books on Kindle devices. I’ve read quite a few. There are books I can’t easily get in hard copy and, heavens knows, there are books I can’t afford in anything but Kindle format. I read them, I often enjoy them, but it’s never the same. It feels more like… ‘work’, reading something on a Kindle. It feels more like reading a document than a book.

I’m sorry. I’m old and a bit set in my ways. I just haven’t taken to the new ways of reading.

I’m afraid it’s still books for me. Old, new, hardback, tattered ancient yellow paperback, it doesn’t matter. When day is done, I want something I can open and close and turn pages on and drop my penny into when I’m finished.

I just crave something different, you know? 


Lisa said...

Nothing will ever beat a real book. The smell, texture, anticipation of yirning the page....or picking it up later to read on. Walking into a bookshop - brand new books or pre-read - and inhaling....

Jim Murdoch said...

I have mixed feelings about ebooks, Ken. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing, nothing that will ever replace the sheer unadulterated pleasure of rooting around a bookshop—especially a second-hand bookshop—looking for… well, just looking. I’ve never been able to replicate that pleasure online. The closest I get to it is wandering through the lists on Amazon and seeing where I end up which I have to admit has led me down some interesting paths but it’s simply not the same. I’m in favour of electronic media. It makes sense for the planet. But when you’ve grown up and the world is a certain way any other way—even a better way—is just plain wrong.

Here’s the thing though. I’ve just posted an article—really can’t call it a review—of Docherty and The Kiln both of which I read in paperback; the former was from the publisher, the latter a present from my wife. And they were hard work to get through. The print was small and the pages were grey and unless I sat in my office chair with the light overhead after a few pages I’d just want to doze off. And that’s no way to get a book read. I’ve never read in bed. I’ve never watched TV in bed either. Beds are for sleeping and cuddling in.

I have a Kindle—the old Kindle (Carrie has a Kindle Paperwhite)—and it was okay. But then I got my 10" tablet and that’s something else entirely. Now I can fiddle with the font and the size and the spacing and the background colour and I like being able to do that PLUS I can read EPUBs and PDFs. (I know the Kindle says it’ll read PDFs but it doesn’t do a very good job.) I do see where you’re coming from when you equate reading on a screen to work. That doesn’t bother me very much since I’ve always equated work with pleasure; I work to relax.

I don’t use pennies though. I have a Garfield tin (which I suspect was designed to contain pens and pencils) which I have filled with various bookmarks that give me pleasure and I enjoy adding to it but I wouldn’t call myself a collector although I could easily become one as I definitely have the collector gene.

I do have problems with ebooks though and the problems I have with them are the same problems I have with computers: you have to view the world through a letterbox. You can’t spread out your books on your desk. The best you can do is have two documents open side by side and even then I struggle to read the reduced print. I walk into my office and scan my bookshelves and I pretty much know where to find every book I own. In Calibre I have lists which are good too but I don’t feel I possess all the books and documents contained within; they lack physicality and that seems to matter to me. If I lost all the files on my hard drive I’d be upset but if I lost all my books I’d be devastated, even books I know I’ll never read again. It doesn’t matter; they’re my books. We went through something together. Something physical. There was taction contact and everything. Maybe even a wee bit of friction. I’ve never felt that way about an ebook. Needless to say the same goes for my CD collection. Music is not a physical thing so why should a container matter to me? But it does. Perhaps this dates back to the old LPs where you would sit with them on your lap and you listened and look at the cover or read the lyrics. It was a part of the experience. The more senses you employ, the more sources of pleasure open up to you.

The thing I hate the most about ebooks is that I can’t (at least not easily) count ahead to see how many pages to go before the next chapter. I’m terrible for doing that and it frustrates me that I can’t do that with my tablet. The book I was reading this morning I had to abandon and who knows, the chapter might end on the next screen.

Oddly enough none of the above applies to films. I’ve never felt particularly attached to videos or DVDs. Wonder why that is?

Elsa said...

I agree completely with books over a reading device.
I love the feel of a book, the smell, turning the pages, just everything about holding a book in my hands and the pile of books over on the chest in my room, on my bed side stand, on my dresser. The books I've got cluttering up different places in my house give me a feeling of contentment and peace. Magazines too.
I love a good used book too ~ I wonder who might have read it and what did they think about it ~ did they read it on the bus, in bed, at a coffee shop?
Nothing can take the place of real book ~ ever!
Oh, I'm a penny person too ~ I find them all over the place ~ almost everyday on my walk! It's my Dad letting me know that everything is good in the world (he sends them from heaven)!