Pleasures of reading – I like the feel and the smell of paper
Posted on October 10th, 2018

Laksiri Warnakula

‘Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hands like you can book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell. You have to hold it in your hands and pray to it. You put it in your pocket and you walk with it. And it stays with you forever. But the computer doesn’t do that to you. I am sorry.’ – Ray Bradbury

This is just a little about the pleasures of reading a book, a solid book that you can hold in your hands, while you let your mind follow the tale and the trail as directed and guided by it.

Now when I hear someone say ‘I remain loyal to the paper’, it always reminds me of my own preference, agreeing with him in full and wholeheartedly.

And then I become overwhelmed with the fond memories of my reading-past and its associated less attentive acts such as scanning, skimming or just leafing through the pages with childish joy, of all those hundreds and hundreds of musty-smelling (very pleasing nevertheless), leather-bound or other paperbacks that passed through my hands.

I grew up in an era, when the present-day digital formats were unheard of and it was all books with solid, soft or sometimes little rough paper bound together and carefully coated in relatively expensive archaic or parchment-looking artificial leather jackets or their cheaper version, the simple paper.

Yet irrespective of how they looked or smelt, they all contained precious knowledge ready at hand to be given to and gleaned from or joy to be gained from, doing earnestly what they were meant to do with absolutely no sign of parsimony, whatsoever.

As I ruffled through the pages of our historical chronicles, they made the child that I was then want to become a Suranimala or a Nandimitra and be as valiant and strong as them. The Gulliver’s travels and Robinson Crusoe (Sinhala translations at first) opened up before me the visions that I couldn’t have even dreamt of or vistas that I couldn’t have even imagined.

Ryder Haggard took me on equally exhilarating adventures before bringing me face to face with the immortal queen Ayesha in his ‘The return of She’.

Then there were those seventy-five-cent paperbacks of Demon Ananda. Even though often frowned upon by our adults then, I immensely enjoyed his local version ‘Jamis Banda series’ obviously based on Ian Fleming’s fictional secret agent James Bond code-named 007. I even had dreams now and then of going after all those evil men with my acquired-in-a-child’s-dream-world handgun sitting snugly and hiding in a pocket. Then there was the Inspector Dikcy Weerakoon, his loyal and able subordinate sergeant Perera and of course his Dracula series (I think he wrote few of those taking ideas from Bram Stoker’s Dracula).

It is certainly impossible to name all of them. Our own literary works, the Sinhala translations and then as I grew older the works from the world literature, the non-fiction of Stephen Hawking, science-fiction of Arthur C. Clarke and fiction of Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Sydney Sheldon, Frederick Forsyth to name a very few, helped me spend hours and hours entrapped in a delightful world filled with fantasy and reality, both fighting for dominance as pages turned.

They kept me enraptured in a near-ecstatic trance powered by the sheer joy of finding myself in a state of constantly changing metamorphosis as you try to copy, go after, take on or turn into any number of characters of your preference.

Now can a Kindle book displayed on a barren, bleak, glaring soulless electronic landscape of a computer screen or listening to an audio-book, which I consider is an act of alienating and distancing yourself from the content to some extent and even becoming less sensitive to whatever the narrator tries to tell you, be compared to a solid book?

Or can you feel the same solidity, tangibility and its existential presence in three-dimension getting very much attached to you in a bond of subtle intellectual intimacy, becoming a temporary appendage within you bringing cognition and emotion together?

I personally very much doubt it. And it’s an emphatic no. E-reading is not my cup of tea, if I can get around it and find the relevant paper version instead.

I have read somewhere that it is what you read that matters and not what it is written on. Well, I still stand by my guns regardless, leaving all those e-books, audio books and whatever to the side!

And finally, when you close your book reluctantly with perhaps a bookmark inserted somewhere amongst the pages, it’s an act of content and halfhearted intent still maintaining a subtle connection with the book, which is not the same as the hollow act of logging off with a click on your mouse pad, an act, which is inherently mechanical and robotic.

Laksiri Warnakula

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