Pleasure dome to reading

A long time ago, I wrote a column for this newspaper about my memories of visiting the National Library in Stamford Road and the Queenstown Community Library in Margaret Drive.

The news peg was the reprieve earned by the main library from being demolished for a road tunnel.

My mother and I had frequented the Queenstown branch and I waxed nostalgically about the smell of the books, the enticing feel of their weight in my arms and how they were so unputdownable that I carried a book with me everywhere, including to the shower, or propped up on the kitchen sink while I washed dishes.

The pages would crinkle and warp from the water, and I would try to iron them out before I returned the books.

I was writing - quite eloquently, I thought - about the beloved and constant companions of my youth, so imagine my horror when I received, a few days later, a letter from a librarian admonishing me for damaging public property.

I don't think it was an official missive but it was a stern scolding for mis-treating books that did not belong to me and deserved better usage.

I was mortified. Here I thought I was a book lover and it turned out I was a book abuser instead.

Her words stung, but I am happy to report I have not loved a book to death in years. Not only am I older and wiser, but much of what I read these days is also on a screen rather than a page (and I know better than to take my Kindle into the shower).

How times have changed. The National Library is gone, having made way in the end for the Fort Canning Tunnel, which I would wager is not half as loved as our repository of ideas was.

I guess economic priorities will always trump the sentimental, no matter what homage we pay to our heritage.

So I am glad that the Queenstown library is in a sleepy location, if that helped contribute to the conservation status it has just been awarded.

It has served generations. In fact, we went as recently as a couple of years ago, while we were in Singapore, and one of the children was hunting down the latest book in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini (it was available).

These days, however, my pleasure dome of books is browsed in bed, with a few taps of a touchscreen keyboard. The books, if available, are instantly downloaded from the North Carolina digital library, and when the time comes for them to be returned, they simply disappear from my device. Luckily, it is hard to abuse an e-book.

The newly built Chapel Hill library is full of light and space, a befittingly tranquil palace for reading, and it has no lack of patrons.

But you can't beat your own bed for convenience, and I wonder how often I will go there once the selection of e-books gets up to speed.

There are many who eschew a cold hard tablet for a good old-fashioned book but I am not one to mourn the decline of paper.

I like the slimness of my Kindle Fire, being able to read in the dark, using the handy search function and having dozens of books on one device.

The only bummer is when it runs out of juice. That's something our tech wizards have yet to solve.

But you don't have to look in a crystal ball for this one. One third of Americans own either a tablet or an e-book reader today, up from 6 per cent in 2010.

The number that astounds me, though, is that three-quarters of people over 16 say they are readers, taking in an average of 15 books in a year.

I wonder if I would have read as much as I did if Candy Crush Saga had existed while I was growing up.

Yet, with the buffet of entertainment options today, the joy of reading is still alive and well.

Analog or digital, bricks and stone or bits and bytes, the packaging changes but the gift doesn't.

And oh, did I mention I can play games on my tablet as well as catch up on my TV shows?

As a friend put it, you need both food and dessert for a well-rounded diet.

sharonl@sph.com.sg


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