Sunday, December 12, 2010

Books Are Your Friends

"Books are your friends."

My father would repeat this to my sister and me when we were little. Trips to the library on the weekend were such a treat, it was like buying as many books as you wanted!! And once you read them, you just take them back and get more. Children don't get to make many of their own choices, but at the library, I got to browse and browse til my heart was content, mulling the benefits of one book over another, finally deciding on both.

I would take books with me to school, reading on the bus, reading in study hall, reading reading reading, all the time. Books were an escape.

My one regret was falling into the trap of romance novels for a time, but still, it was all fine in the end because I ended up discovering historical romances. That's where I first started picking up an interest in history. It all started with those Regency romances - they took place usually in England during the early 1800s when Napoleon was still in power in France and the Prince Regent (hence, Regency) ran the social set in England. I learned about cravats, Beau Brummel and how scandalous the waltz was when it was first introduced.

Eventually I moved on to the hard stuff - Kathleen Woodiwiss. For those of you blissfully unfamiliar with the seething world of romance novels, she was the queen, no, the Empress of historical romance novels - hundreds and hundreds of pages and super detail about whatever period of history it was. I read and re-read her novels dozens of times. I can't stomach the stuff now ("Her long coppery hair fell in wild disarray about her shoulders and heaving bosom..." - LOLOL, can you believe it?) - but I'm grateful for her books - she gave me a super-awesome vocabulary and sent me on my way towards non-fiction.

Sometime after college, I started spending all my time on non-fiction. I had a few years with Napoleon Bonaparte, then moved on to more of a focus on medieval and English history. It really kicked in when it occurred to me how it's a perfect fit with genealogy - when you know the current events for a period of time and a place, you understand your people better. Duh!!

And so I began a years long collection process - any time I'm in a used bookstore I look for old out-of-print titles for the time periods and places I'm interested in.

Meanwhile of course, the internet happened and man oh man did it get easier to search, especially in all those genealogy books published around the turn of the 20th century. When I was first getting into using the computer I bought a couple books on CD - I believe one of them was a history of New Haven, Connecticut.

That's when it happened. I had those CDs for a couple years, spent a lot of time printing out different pages that were relevant to me, then put them away. When I went back to them a few years later, lo and behold, I couldn't open the files. The format had become obsolete (this was prior to PDF being as ubiquitous as it has now).

And Lo, my great distrust of electronic archival formats was born. It's not to say I don't use electronic files - I totally admit, I am an internet fiend, I love using the internet to search for information (on pretty much any topic), and I Love Love Love having access to so many different libraries and collections and out-of-copyright books. And whenever I am able, I save my own copy of information to my hard drive and eventually back it up to a cd or dvd.

But do I fully trust that it will be there when I go back? Nope. I expect, pretty much every day, that it could all go away. Is all this online stuff really there or are we just imagining it? When I step away from my monitor, are you all still out there? I'm not sure. Maybe you are all in my snowglobe (let's see who gets that reference, don't cheat, the answer is here).

You know what is still there when I leave the room? My books.

A dear dear friend recently called me up and was raving about her new eBook reader. She is an avid consumer of popular fiction and loved the fact that she didn't have all these books cluttering up the place now that before she would just have to figure out a way to get rid of or donate. She was telling me how much I would love it and I should get one.

I couldn't think of a more terrible fate! :-D

To trust that all my information exists electronically? No way!!! It's great as a working copy, but my real archive is still paper. And don't even get me started on the whole who really owns your ebooks - at least with a real book I know I am the owner and no one can take it away from me. It is the one area in my life where I won't allow technology to change me. I absolutely prefer IM over phone calls, over written invitations, and wikipedia over my parent's volumes of Encyclopedia Brittanica -- but you will never get me to exchange a book for a .pdf file.

Besides, you can't tell a cool story about how you found a .pdf file in a tiny used bookstore in the Trossachs in Scotland where a large cat serenely reigned. And you can't say that inside the front cover of that .pdf, a former owners name was Bothwell (could be related to the famous one???) and then you hand-carried the .pdf home in your carry-on luggage to make sure nothing happened to it? Nope, you can't say that about a .pdf. But you can say it about my copy of John Evelyn's diary here in this picture. :-)

Books are your friends.


  1. Amen, Leah. I have a ereader but actual books with
    pages and a cover and the FEEL of a book are still my choice!

  2. I'm another lover of real books. I love your comparisons and the part about the non-excitement of finding a pdf file. Good post, and I believe the book lovers will comment.

  3. Some day I'll get an e-reader for some of the mystery books I read and a few other "disposable" reads, but hard copy is still my preference.

  4. I knew right away what the snowglobe reference was about. I recall clearly your mother and I looking at each other and saying something like "Are you $#!+ing me?"

    At the company I USED to work for, ;-> it was an agonizing decision to move from microfiche to jpg images. You can touch microfiche, jpg files are ether.

  5. I couldn't agree more - as someone whose bookshelves are groaning, I love my old books. However, electronic copies do make it much easier to search for something if it's not in the index. And understanding what was going on in a country at a particular time is VERY useful to explain perhaps why your ancestors moved or changed occupations, so all those historical romances contributed to your knowledge :-)

  6. Hi Leah ~ The part I can really relate to is the joy of finding a certain book. I still have some wonderful things I found when I was in England...I mean what can be better than buying an old copy of a Jane Austen novel IN BATH?!!?

    But I will also admit to owning a Kindle - and loving it. I read so many things - lots of current fiction. Also, like you I had a detour into historical romance in my college years and while I no longer read that type of book (too many heaving bosoms - LOL) I still like historical mysteries. I refer to them as "my version of TV" Those live happily on my Kindle as well.

    As was mentioned previously - I also love to find pdf versions of local histories just for that search capability.

    So, I guess I like it all - but I will never give up actual books. So things just NEED to be viewed in that way.

    So, I guess

  7. I just spent a couple hours reviewing our 2011 reading list for our book club and deciding on formats. Books I expect to read once - library or ebook. Books I want to keep, to share, to touch - I'm off to my local independent bookstore. It's the sharing that I love the most.