and now there is, because I have just invented one (with the help of my husband, whose German is much better than mine). It’s Leerbuchregalangst, the fear of being without anything to read (rendered literally: fear of the empty book shelf). One of the most difficult times in my life was in my twenties when I had an eye operation that prevented me from reading for a while. But I suffered from Leerbuchregalangst long before that. Perhaps it goes back to my childhood when the time between visits to the library seemed so long and I’d read the books at home again and again. But whatever its roots, it has led me to stagger through train stations and airports with suitcases lined with paperbacks (sometimes discarding them en route when read). There have been anxious calculations about how many books I am likely to get through, with one or two added for good luck. I have written before about what a blessing the little World’s Classics editions are, so small and compact.
Of course the coming of the e-reader has changed things, but not as much as might be expected. I wouldn’t take an e-reader on the beach, for instance. And there is a problem with technology: it is always possible that it might break down, or get stolen, or lost. Books don’t break down. Even dropping one in the bath won’t make it illegible. I once dropped one down a Swiss hillside and managed to retrieve it from a snowdrift. It was rather swollen, but I still read it. So I’ll continue to take books on holiday as back-up. Or perhaps it’s the e-reader that’s back-up.
I had a day in London yesterday and travelling on the tube between Piccadilly and King’s Cross I sat opposite a young man who was totally engrossed in his SF novel, Frank Herbert’s Heretics of Dune. He was far away, on another planet. One of the consequences of people reading so much electronically is that you can’t see what it is that they are reading. Fifty Shades of Grey or War and Peace? There’s no way of knowing. And it’s not just young people: I noticed an elderly couple on the train reading on their ipads. I regret this, as I do like to see what I can spot people reading when I travel to and around London. This time I only bagged Frank Herbert and a young woman reading Terry Prachett on the train back to Chesterfield. I particularly like it when I see young people reading the classics. I once saw a young woman reading a Graham Greene novel in a waiting room at Moorfields Eye Hospital.
Sadly I have never spotted anyone reading one of my novels. I guess that must sometimes happen to people who write best-sellers. However I did once see someone buying a copy of my edition of William Morris’s writing on art and design in the V and A and that was a thrill.