We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea – digitally

I find myself reading Arthur Ransome’s We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea.

I first reached for the book probably about a year ago when I read an article about the books setting (right here in the East of England). Until then I’d always thought Swallows and Amazons were the domain of the Peak District – which given that Ransome was a Yorkshire man I always found a tad annoying! I’m returning to it now with a hint of professional interest – more of that I suspect in later blog posts.

The edition I’m reading is a fading 1980 paperback from Puffin (original price £1.10). When I checked the date I felt slightly disappointed it was only 1980 – but even that is 31 years ago! Theres something wonderful about reading old(er) books. This one is nothing special (certainly a second hand book seller wouldnt give it a second glance) but even so… There is something warming about its dusty smell and the way the pages ripples a little like the sea itself. The spine is giving way so every page has to be turned ever so gently to ensure it doesn’t become loose. Then theres its hidden history. This book was obviously once in the ownership of Charles Wiles of Harpenden (on the inside cover one of those stickers with your name, address and telephone number is proudly secured, devoid now of all its colour). Given that he died in 1877 this cant be Charles Wiles the American Naval Officer and explorer – even though that would have been fitting but I guess it could have once belonged to one of the 9 Charles Wiles on facebook. Theres also a 30p pencilled which confirms that in its 31 history this copy of WDMtgtS has had several anonymous owners – who they are and what they thought of the story I guess only the book itself will know.

Ironic to be thinking all this in a week of much media speculation about the publishing world, book sales and the rise (or plateauing depending on who you read) of digital publishing. Whilst I’ve never been particularly woo’d by the omni present Kindle it would be wrong to say I’ve not coveted an I Pad or its android equivalent and I’d be the first to point out the advantages of digital distribution. But last night was a reminder (at least for me) of the pleasure of reading from a book and all its hidden history. Whether the story lives up to the book itself I’ll have to let you know when I finish reading it.

I suspect like many people I’ll end up having a foot in both camps – reading from both books and electronic devices on a regular basis as both the mood and the matter takes me. Mind I can also imagine the grump I’ll be when I first have to buy something twice – in both digital and paper formats!! Whichever way round it happens I wont be best pleased.


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