In praise of... sharing books, sharing pleasure

Today's World Book Day reminds me that there was a time when books were rather splendid things, often handed out as prizes; even relatively cheap, ordinary ones were beautifully bound, maybe with decorative opening words in each chapter. The gift of a book was something special, especially if the giver was sharing something - prose or poetry - that they themselves treasured and found enriching, or suggested that this author would in some way speak to the recipient's heart, broaden their mind, or meet their needs at the time.

Nowadays, even with paperbacks and garish covers, books are still special, because of what they are and what they contain. They are portals into other worlds, into another's thoughts and experiences; into lands and scenes which are poetic, whimsical, sobering, thought-provoking, spirit-lifting, spine-chilling, humorous, enlightening... into ordinary events made extraordinary by means of well-crafted words and imagery. They are also portals into friendships. One of the delights of visiting a friend whose shelves are crammed with books is the opportunity to browse, especially if said friend is glad to recommend and lend whatever they have enjoyed; while a sure way of getting to know a new friend better is to see what tastes are displayed on their bookshelves. We may rarely give books as gifts - sending much-loved poetry and novels in the post as previous generations did - but we still delight in sharing books or authors we have discovered, as if they were treasures - which, indeed, they are.

And this is where books - actual, physical books - will always trump Kindles, however useful they may be for travellers. I can happily browse a friend's bookshelves while she makes me a cup of tea - but I would never dream of picking up her tablet and scrolling through her downloads! And even if she allowed me to do this, she'd never be able to lend me anything that caught my eye or her imagination; which, I suppose is good for sales and royalties, but not for our enjoyment. Sharing a good book is almost as good as re-reading it; certainly, our pleasure in it is doubled.

Last year I read a delightful book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It is charming and heart-lifting - despite a plot which focuses on a dark period in Guernsey's history - with each page singing of humanity and the resilience of the human spirit, and the sheer gift that literature can be. (That's all I will tell you - if you want to know more, get hold of a copy! - and yes, I've already passed it on to a friend who was enchanted by it!). At the end one of the co-authors adds a few words of her own, in which she speaks of the interest sparked by the book and its diverse characters. She ends by saying...

This profusion of questions, exclamations and tales is the new version of the Society. Its members are spread all over the world, but they are joined by their love of books, of talking about books, and of their fellow readers. We are transformed - magically - into the literary society each time we pass a book along, each time we ask a question about it, each time say, 'If you liked that, I bet you'd like this.' Whenever we are willing to be delighted and share our delight, as Mary Ann did, we are part of the ongoing story of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

And, I'd say, we are all transformed into being part of the ongoing story of the enduring, unending appeal of books, and the sheer, gratuitous pleasure of sharing them...