A friend gave me a Kindle last month. My first ever e-reader, it did excite me quite a bit in the beginning. But after clicking through a couple of e-books, I felt uneasy; it didn’t seem to belong there in my hands. It seemed like too much of a new trick for an old dog — or an old cat in my case. I put it away in less than a week.
Publishers at the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair predicted that digital book sales would overtake print ones in 2018. In response to this prediction, I invited many of my writer friends in the Greater China region to employ their wildest imagination and create poems, plays, or short stories about the doomsday for printed books. We presented them as a project entitled “In Nine Years” at the Guangzhou Book Flea Market I organized in 2009.
Now, six years later, those scenes my friends envisioned in their poems, plays and short stories are still words printed on paper. The reality is different than what they had envisioned. Bookstores that were once closing down one after another are now back in fashion. They are appearing as cultural landmarks in commercial real estate projects to help project an ostentatious image. Some people regard reading as a label to distinguish them as being more “cultured” from their “not so cultivated” counterparts. Others say books are becoming luxury goods that only some can afford. To me, reading is highly accessible and very personal. One reads as one wishes. Indulging oneself with the freedom of picking whichever book from the shelf is much more appealing than selecting one from a certain online platform. One might be some sort of “snob” in the choice of a book — much like in a love affair — sometimes one could be hurt and it’s no big deal. Wherever I go, my trip is not complete without checking out a local bookstore. I tend to avoid large book malls and prefer to explore small bookstores — it’s where unexpected encounters happen, which I relish with a unique pleasure.
Social media platforms have made reading more convenient and people are sharing their favorite literature more frequently than ever. Nevertheless, tradition and technology have never been — and will never be — separated. At least the act of reading, from a certain perspective, is omnipresent as a permanent and universal practice. It is an end as much as a beginning.
As science and technology develop, human habits change eventually. For me, frequent visits to bookstores and frequent purchases of books stay the same, and they shall be constant old habits.
Text by Peter Peng, Founder of Guangzhou Book Flea Market, Owner of Peter Cat Bookstore; English translation by Tom Wang and Lin Yuting