…is the pencil.
You see, I read with a pencil in hand.
Now, it’s true, I don’t read much fiction.
(Okay, I hardly read any fiction whatsoever, and that fiction which I do read tends to have been written by P.G. Wodehouse. Nor is it the first time I will have encountered his elevating and effervescent prose, his wry characterisations and delightful non-plots.)
However, all the rest of the time, I read history and/or biography.
And it is at these times that I read with a pencil in hand. And with this pencil, I underline and make notes in the margins.
(Even when it’s a rubbish book.)
I underline names and dates, I notate the text, I make comments. (Yes, sometimes like “WRONG!”)
…all so that when I return to the text (which I undoubtedly do when I’m working on a novel) I can easily find the date when a thing happened, or trace through the text an individual’s movements, or nail down exactly who was at such and such a battle and how they died.
All these little details with which I concern myself when I’m constructing a novel.
I am currently finishing that weighty tome Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna by Adam Zamoyski. And, yes, there are few pages which are not scribbled upon by self, in some way or other. But, for the most part, there are few virgin pages. For the longer the text–this one is something like 571 pages–the more need for scribbled pointers so that I may find what I’m searching for at some future date.
And this is why I can’t see myself switching to e-books. Not entirely. Because not all books are meant to be read once and discarded.
Some books are meant to be read, studied, noted upon, reread and refered to an infinite number of times. And during that process, all those scribbled pointers become waymarks and road signs.
Once read, the books sit upon the shelves of the bookroom, covering the walls, like a vast map of historical research, and I have only to look upon those shelves, upon the spines of all those books, to know where to find whatever I’m searching for. Which again, I couldn’t do with a Kindle.
(I’d have to keep the titles of those hundreds of books in my head–now, we’re talking trouble…I’d be more muddled than I am now, heaven help me. And that would be a problem.)
So whilst for many things I believe the e-book is the wave of the future–and don’t get me wrong, I think they can be fabulous–but don’t let’s throw out the book (and pencil) just yet.