This weekend was the Copenhagen Bookfair.
It’s been 18 years since I first came to work there. Back then, in the autumn of 2000, I was new to the industry, taking shifts in the wine bar put up by Borgen Publishers serving exquisite grapes to the educated bright minds of the literary elite. It was a new world to me, a lot of fun and a lot of hard work! Since then, I’ve attended and worked at multiple fairs and sold countless of books to small & tall readers, kids and adults alike. I’ve always loved the buzz of the fair with long work days and a tag with my name on, the excitement of celebrity authors in the house, the thrill of the conversations in every corner. The ideas, the stories, the curiosity, the smiles, the sharing (and, of course, the free bookish paraphernalia). All under one roof.
This year, however, I didn’t attend the fair to work.
Today, I took my daughter to her first bookfair. She’s only 15 months old, but I’ve never seen a kid more excited. We spent 4 hours walking the aisles, perusing, watching people getting in line for a book signing, talking to old colleagues & friends, buying more books than we could carry (!), listening to authors reading aloud, overhearing other readers sharing their favourite books. About life, love, death, scary monsters & muddy puddles (Peppa Pig, what else is there?) We were taking it all in. And as we observed our way through the bookish crowd, I was reminded of this cartoon that asks how we get our kids to read books in the age of digital, and at the same time, I couldn’t help feeling a bit moved and overwhelmed by the excitement and enthusiasm in the room.
Everywhere I go these days, I see the dichotomy between analogue and digital. And because we tend to address this issue as a polarity, we automatically think one is better than the other. We want one of them to win.
To me, digital and analogue are not mutually exclusive. One is not better than the other. To me, they go together hand in hand and work in tandem. Where digital offers another level of interaction with the narrative, analogue has a lovely slowness to it. To be able to unplug with a “book book” is really exotic in the age of Augmented Reality, and I although I often find myself working as a digital explorer at the bookish frontier, I want my daughter to grow up rehearsing this virtue. To unplug and go slow. Books are more than just windows to the world. They offer a quiet pause, a break, a moment of reflection and deep thinking, an opportunity to contemplate and think twice, which I think is really valuable in a time that requires speedy (but constructive!) feedback and demands our online presence 24/7. And yes, I have read books with her, for her, to her since she was born. Every day, just a little bit. In fact, I read books to her even before she was born, but I didn’t do it out of some careerist ambition to make an “all As girl” out of her. I did it and I’m still doing it out of a sincere concern for her imaginative development and mental well-being as a grown-up. My ambition is that she grows into a creative, enlightened and courageous woman, who gets crazy ideas that she must see through. I want her to be an empathetic human being, who cares for her neighbours and understands the other side. I want her to be curious and ask questions and I want her to dream big and dare pursue those dreams. And books, by way of their analogueness, make way for this insight that comes with going slow to stop and think. What I really like about books is this one function. There’s only the reading and the thinking – and the bended spine, the margin notes and the scent of inc and faded paper. Reading books is a very tactile experience (hi nostalgia!)
I do realise that the new generation of readers has grown up with a completely different approach to this. To them, it’s no big deal. And truth be told, I do believe that you can get exactly the same experience from reading a digital book (although some researchers do point out that we map the text differently when we read on paper, but that’s another discussion). And this is where digital and analogue works in tandem. My fascination with digital media and passion for digital communication lies in its power to facilitate connection and conversation.
Because what matters to me is the reading. The concept of reading.
As I have stated elsewhere, it’s peculiar to observe an entire industry obsessing with the solidity of increasing print sales and taking it as a sign that “the book lives” without really considering if that bought book is in fact also a read book.
So, for that reason, I’ll say it again: What matters to me is the reading. And when I say reading, I don’t just mean the act of decoding letters on a page to make meaning of it all privately in your head. I mean the reading, the contemplation, the conversation that arises when we share our favourite stories and listen to those of others. The spark that is ignited when we connect with a story (and its storyteller) and GROW from the mutual learning experience, because we can relate or were moved by it.
Reading is the gateway skill that makes all learning possible. Reading is learning is seeing. As Seth Lehrer has phrased it, “behind every lesson is, etymologically, the lectio; the act of reading.” And for this very reason, readers are leaders because they are learners by nature – widely read (aka they know stuff), curious and empathetic. Once a reader, always a reader. There is no going back.
So when I bring my daughter to a bookfair she will hardly remember when she gets older, it has nothing to do with the experience of the bookfair in itself.
There’s much more at stake.
(Originally published on Linkedin on October 28th 2018).