I’m giving an old friend an outing for World Book Day. This falling apart copy of The Observer’s Book of Birds was given me by my brother and was one of his more successful presents (he has a history of eccentric gift giving which I won’t go into here).
It had a Fieldfare on the cover once. At the time – growing up in Balham before it became fashionable – this was a wildly exotic bird. In fact most of them in the book were. We had sparrows in plenty, blackbirds, pigeons, that was about it. But it didn’t stop me looking and hoping, thumbing through the pages till I had more or less memorised the whole book. As I grew up and lived in different places the book came with me. I started to actually see some of the birds and mark them in so it became a record not just of birds but of my life. (Almost incidentally it charts massive changes. Goldfinches, once an ecstatically noted rarity, were in ‘dozens’ by 81, the ‘sparrers’ meanwhile, are almost gone from London.)
This book is useless. It’s dirty, it’s out of date, it’s falling to bits. So why don’t I throw it away? Why does leafing through it give me a lump in my throat? What is it about books, real physical books, that can make us love them, more as if they were friends than objects?! I really enjoy my Kindle and the convenience of bird books and apps on my phone, but I can’t imagine getting nostalgic about them! And I wonder what other objects have that same ability to absorb memories and feelings and reflect them back to us in a touch. Well used tools maybe, or musical instruments?
Happy World Book Day old friend.