Last week, my novel arrived at The Printers. I conjure up a very clear mental picture when someone mentions The Printers. It takes me back to when I was at University and on my holidays I worked at The Printers. Not a place that printed books, but nevertheless a printing factory.
It was in a shed in the middle of summer, and like being in a sauna. You didn’t open the windows to try to get a breeze because loose papers and wind do not mix well. I worked on the end of a machine that was so long it went around a corner. Anything that arrived at my end of the machine, I packed into a box. Highlights of my day included sealing one box and starting a new one, and lunch time. I spent most of the time reminding myself that I was doing this for a few short weeks only, and it was precisely why I was going to Uni. I did acquire the skill of quickly and effectively knocking papers together, which still comes in handy today. And I still know my way around a tape gun.
My Dad got me the job. He worked in the air conditioned office adjoining The Printers. By the time he retired, he had spent over fifty years in the printing industry. He started out in the early 1950s and learnt the trade of compositing – manually putting each letter for each word in each sentence on each page into place, to be inked up in order to print a single page. The process seems incredible in this day and age where my book was ‘sent’ to The Printers with the click of a mouse button. And many of its readers will never actually hold a printed copy of my book, instead reading it on some sort of electronic device and chopping The Printers out of the equation completely.
Despite torturous hours spent working at The Printers, I am still a fan of the printed book. Maybe I’m being old-fashioned and set in my ways. Electronic books are so much more sensible, more environmentally friendly. You can read them with the lights off, enlarge the print if your eyes get tired, carry hundreds of books on one device. Everything about them appeals to my sense of practicality. So why have I never downloaded one?
I think for me it has something to do with all the books that have passed through my hands during my life. Picture books on my mother’s lap, the joy of finding a particular title whilst trolling through library shelves, swapping random books whilst backpacking, reading with my own children. There is something deeply pleasurable about sitting down with an actual book. Even if the type is too small, the pages won’t sit flat or it’s too big to fit in my handbag.
I like the physical book. I’d even do another couple of weeks at The Printers to preserve it.