I KNOW what’s going to be written on my obituary. “Buried under piles of books and only found six months later.”

Morbid as it sounds, it’s really a great way to go, as far as I’m concerned. Conked on the head by a falling thesaurus? Crushed by a bookshelf loaded with favourite books? Passed on while curled up in my armchair with a book wide open on my lap?

Yes, please!

My love affair with books began when I was old enough to read. From Enid Blyton to Laura Ingalls, Rudyard Kipling to C.S. Lewis, I’ve read them all and lived their stories over and over again. Those dog-eared books were my closest companions, whom I turned to whenever I was lonely or bored. Books were my friends. They still are. They allow me to live a thousand lives and dream a hundred dreams.

And with International Book Lover’s Day just days away, this is an ode to books and the wonderful companions they make.

Long before I got around to getting a bookshelf for my room, piles and piles of books surrounded me. Every space in my room got taken up by books, and more books. Death by a tottering pile of books was a distinct possibility — as my mother made very clear to me, despairing of my book-obsession and failing yet again to stop me from bringing home YET another book.

My dog-eared and stained Lord Of The Rings sits proudly on my shelf, along with my childhood collection of Blyton’s Famous Five. Literary classics, bestsellers, lurid romances, fairy tales, natural history, memoirs, poetry, the yawners, the scorchers, the ones that keep you awake at nights, the ones that put you to sleep before you reach page five, spine-tingling horror, occult, holy books — I have them all. And no, I don’t throw any book away.

LURE OF BOOKS

The smell of paper, the beautifully-designed cover hiding a world of secrets beneath it, the turning of the page (the rustling of paper as you flip through a book is an oddly satisfying sound) — books have an undeniably fetishistic quality that book lovers find unable to resist.

The scent of aged paper is something that lingers on our olfactory sense whenever we open a book. What’s more, it’s a scientifically proven fact and one that an article called Material Degradomics: On The Smell Of Old Books attests to, stating that researchers at University College London used “headspace analysis” to measure the volatile compounds produced when paper decays: among others, rosin, acetic acid, furfural and lignin.

Meanwhile, perfume critic Luca Turin explains that it’s the latter that makes books smell so good: “When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good-quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us.”

In an opinion piece in Wall Street Journal, author Joe Queenan declares that for book lovers, the print medium has got no competition. He wrote: “People who need to possess the physical copy of a book, not merely an electronic version, believe that the objects themselves are sacred. Some people may find this attitude baffling, arguing that books are merely objects that take up space. This is true, but so are Prague and your kids and the Sistine Chapel.”

The entire reading experience is encapsulated between the covers of a book with magic ingrained in its spine and the thoughts, love and imagination of people drenched in the etchings on the pages. Books are compendiums of magic that not only capture our imagination but also hold within their covers, memories of our own imprint on their pages. Like the childhood scrawling of our names, the little notes we write on the margins and the underlined words, they speak of our own journey while we read. They don’t just tell stories of authors. They tell our stories too.

The books on my groaning bookshelves and those stacked in doddering piles throughout the house tell of my own personal story. They chronicle my history as a reader and, to discerning bibliophiles, offer a glimpse into my very soul.

ADVENT OF E-BOOKS

Then came the digital publishing revolution and along with it, the romantic old-fashioned way of burying your nose in a book found itself competing with the back-lighting, font-changing, space-holding little tablets that could magically contain more books than my overstuffed bookshelf ever could.

The rise of apps and gadgets, which has led to the extinction of many once-indispensable and nostalgic activities and services of our childhood, including postal service, telegrams and even actual conversations, is now threatening the physical book landscape. Barring the natural resistance to change by die-hard book lovers, it can’t be denied that the reading landscape has changed thanks to the development of e-readers in recent years, rendering digital books a whole lot more competitive than the conventional paper-based ones.

However, is print losing the war against pixels just yet? Surprisingly, rather than burying the print publishing industry (as was once predicted), e-books have remained fairly unthreatening. Perhaps readers are slowly beginning to understand that the experience from reading off a vast grey ocean of pixels differs greatly from the intimate interaction you get with a physical book. Its heft, its scent, the tactile quality of its cover, the give of the binding — isn’t a mirage that no one else can perceive.

Perhaps they’re realising that reading off a screen isn’t as far up the evolutionary ladder as compared to a book. Whatever the reasons may be, while the war is far from over, physical books will not go away without a fight. For as long as there are readers, lovers of the written word and book fetishists around, physical books — as unwieldy and space hoarding as they are — will survive. And “Death By Book” will always remain a happy possibility for me.

elena@nst.com.my

Book Lovers Speak!

ANNA CHEW

CEO of Beam Storage

The funny thing is that I run start-ups in the tech world, so naturally everyone would think I’d choose an electronic device — but no. Books! There’s nothing like flipping through the pages of pulp. I grew up around a librarian father who built libraries for PhD students and researchers. I’ve visited libraries around the world and it still brings back fond memories. So, yes, give me a book anytime!s back fond memories. So yes, give me a book anytime!

ADIBAH NOOR

Singer, actress and presenter

I prefer books. Not e-books. I love to hold them, smell them and have my sambal and kicap smudged all over them when I read while I makan. I love to physically hold the piece of paper to turn the pages instead of merely flipping it by touching a screen. I don’t need battery power to read them, nor do I need memory bank to download them — just probably room on shelves, where I can look at them and take pride at how much reading I’ve done.

The only reason why my eyes get spoilt when I read them is probably when I read them without sufficient lighting. but never burning my retinas with the power from a tablet!

DAPHNE IKING

Broadcaster, presenter and emcee

This has been an ongoing debate between my husband and I as he’s trying to dissuade me from buying more books (our shelves are filling up!). I’ve tried though. It’s not as if I haven’t downloaded some books on my iPad but I still prefer the old-fashioned idea of holding an actual book, flipping it and using my trusty bookmark in between reads. I grew up with books as my folks couldn’t afford toys and would encourage us to read instead.

EDDIN KHOO

Writer, poet and founder-director of Pusaka

E-books aren’t real books! I’m thinking of replicating the famous burning of the Library of Alexandria with Kindles instead of papyrus scrolls and books. E-books haven’t been a success at all. The digital apocalypse never arrived because books are resilient and are, in fact, making a comeback.

Reading off a screen isn’t really reading, to be honest. A book can’t be replaced by a mere screen! The aesthetic pleasure that printed books can bring, the tactile interaction with a book, the personal imprint you leave on it, plus the whole distinguished provenance of books make them irreplaceable. I’m fed up of people who don’t read actual books nor hoard them. For as long as people can feel, think and have a soul, books will remain.

CHELSEA NG

Actress, singer, songwriter and emcee

I prefer books because I love the feel of a book in my hands and the smell of the pages as I flip them. Also, I can’t put a Kindle on my bookshelf and still call it a bookshelf. and I love my bookshelf! Old books have a certain kind of charm to them but I really do enjoy buying new books too.

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