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Books in a busy digital age

By John Cortes

Digital books are convenient. You can carry them in your pocket, volumes and volumes at the touch of a screen, handy when you feel like a comfort read, or need to research some subject or other (Google permitting).

The old-fashioned thought that a digital book is not a book is only true in a limited way. There’s something about the volume of a volume, about turning a literal, non-virtual new leaf, even about the smell of a book, whether old or new….

But a digital book is a book and in some cases, especially with our digitally adept youngest, may be more confidently accessed than a paper tome.

Gib Talks 2019. 020219 (Photo John Bugeja)

I think that it’s all about access to literature. The value of reading a book, or of using it as a reference, remains as immense as it has ever been.

Books can change our mood, can make life varied and colourful by introducing characters and storylines into our minds. They give us information and make us think. They increase our creativity, stimulating thought and provoking dreams.

Books can be an extension of ourselves. My own personal collection includes books that anyone who knows me would expect to see there. Bird guides, floras, natural history texts.

But books also bring things into our lives that wouldn’t otherwise be there. As British journalist, writer and bibliophile George Holbrook Jackson once wrote, “Your library is your portrait”. That’s why seeing anyone’s bookshelf can make us understand people often as much as as knowing them, if not more.

You’d expect me to have books about nature. And of course I do. A look at my bookshelf will show titles like Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, The Birds of London, Water in the Garden, and The Flowers of Gibraltar. You’d likely even expect a few about Politics, even thought that side of me developed late in life - and you would see Using Political Ideas, and What Happened (by Hillary Clinton).

But you might be surprised to also see titles like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen Donaldson or the full set of the Dune series. This of course betrays my love of fantasy and science fiction.

Perhaps even less expected would be volumes like Europe, The Silk Roads, The Travels of Ibn Batuta, Under the Pomegranate Tree, Ancient Greece, The collapse of the Bronze Age and The Ancient Mariners. This reveals one of my (up to now) secret interests - history, and particularly medieval history.

And then of course are what are my own personal classics - everyone should have them - from my childhood favourite Peter Pan, and, from my teens, from the person who is probably my favourite author, the Old Man and the Sea and, possibly my favourite book, The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Hemingway at his best!

Books allow me to delve into worlds that are different to my day to day. It’s a release, but also a way of enriching me as a person. And in this the digital age, it is so easy now to carry your whole library with you.

I’ve just realised, while writing this, that in recent years I haven’t given the time I used to to books, love them as I do. Work, busy life, Netflix even, seem to have got in the way. I think I should go back to books - shouldn’t you?

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