Sunday, 22 June 2014

People and Paper

Before I forget, I wanted to mention something cool that happened at a wedding recently.

I was stood outside the venue, sipping a Prosecco in the sun, when I was tapped on the shoulder and introduced to a lad of about ten years old. His mum explained that the boy (let’s call him Tom) was a science fiction fan.

We shook hands. Tom said that his absolute favourite was Doctor Who. We discussed the relative merits of television Doctors for a few minutes, then moved on to the novels. He said he preferred the books to the TV show, because books could do things that TV couldn’t.

Listening to this brilliant, bright kid speak, I realised I had an opportunity. I could ask a bonafide next generation reader how he likes to consume his books.

The point is, I like my collection. It's been torn apart, displaced and rebuilt many times since I was Tom’s age - but in my early teens I was spoilt enough to build up great stacks of comics: 2000AD, Groo, Asterix. Paperbacks too: George Orwell and Roald Dahl. Much of it's lost or boxed up now, but in those years I was a conscientious curator. My friends were too.

I’ve often wondered: has this all changed? Some commentary gives the impression that today’s kids have no need of shelves, only access to the great cloud. You could easily believe that the days of hardcopies are numbered. Oh, I’ve heard arguments against that, but mostly from authors and publishing folk, which naturally feel unreliable. It seems a sad notion, that future children might sit in empty rooms, with no clutter save a single, glowing slab.

I asked Tom if he did all his reading on Kindle.

“No, I like books,” he said firmly.

“You collect them?”

He said that he did, but noted that his pocket money restricted him to one book a month, so it was slow going.

It’s probably obvious to someone who has children, but I was surprised and delighted: so the kids are still building little libraries. For now, at least, they’re still re-shuffling shelves, preserving paper, accumulating treasure.

Bless the lot of them, I say. May Tom’s shelves overflow, and the collector spirit live on.

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