The Irish Times view on the joy of books: portable magic

’There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favourite book’

For many of us, and for a variety of reasons, certain books become like old friends and the best of those friendships often begin in childhood – a time when a love of books is first fostered. Photograph: iStock

For many of us, and for a variety of reasons, certain books become like old friends and the best of those friendships often begin in childhood – a time when a love of books is first fostered. Photograph: iStock

 

They said it was a dying phenomenon, that our new age of ebooks and Kindle would lead to the demise of the printed word. They were wrong and we should be grateful. As with the more modest revival of the vinyl record, there are signs of a resurgence of demand – and respect – for the book in its oldest and proper form: the one that provides the tactile thrill of turning pages.

A report this week that book sales are on the rise is welcome, not only for publishers and booksellers, but for all who cherish what the author Stephen King once called “the uniquely portable magic”.

The dire prediction that the book as we have known it since perhaps the time of the Gutenberg Bible would disappear was one that many of us seemed to accept, but the 7 per cent increase in sales in Ireland and the very significant €22 million increase in the United Kingdom shows how wrong that forecast was. People have, it seems, come to recognise what the Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges believed: that paradise would be “a kind of library”.

For many of us, and for a variety of reasons, certain books become like old friends and the best of those friendships often begin in childhood – a time when a love of books is first fostered. There are characters – for some it might be Winnie-the-Pooh, others Atticus Finch or Jo March – who continue to live on in memory long after the last chapter has ended.

The value of that childhood encounter with books is further enhanced because the experience was very likely shared with a parent and evokes precious memories as a result. It is also the opening of the door to imaginative thought, the sowing of the first seed of future inspiration – a gift beyond price to any child.

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favourite book” – that remembrance of things past by Marcel Proust should be remembered by all parents and grandparents when they go on the hunt for gifts this Christmas.

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