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I was born into a family that loved books. There were books in each room of our house – of all shapes, sizes, genres and authorships. During my childhood many people chose to leave my country due to the political situation there, and they would leave mountains of books in their wake. So my father would often come back from a second-hand shop staggering under the weight of a new boxful of books he’d picked up for a pittance. What a treasure trove!

For all of my life, then, I have been surrounded by books, largely due to the book-buying habit I built up. Until the evolution of the ereader and the ebook, that was how all readers lived: buy a book, read the book and either keep that book (most likely, for me) or pass it on, whether to a friend or to a charity shop; combined, of course, with membership at the local library.

But as they say, ‘the times they are a’changing’, thanks to ebooks. Some readers now shun all print books. Some shun all ebooks and stick to print only. The majority, I suspect, are like me and compromise: some ebooks, some print. And in that final category lies a new kind of book owner: the ‘try before you fully buy’ sort.

Here is the process, which is gaining ground rapidly among readers:

  1. Buy an ebook version of a book.
  2. If you really liked the book, go and buy it in paperback or hardback format, to keep on your bookshelf forevermore.
  3. If you didn’t really like the book, either archive it on your ereader or delete it entirely.

The end result is a bookshelf whose contents represent only those books you really, really love and want to read again and recommend to others. Orderly and straightforward indeed.

There is also an argument that this new approach to book ownership is more frugal than the traditional approach of taking a gamble on print books. For example, say you buy 50 books per year, approximately one per week, and say that a paperback costs £8 and an ebook costs £4.

If you buy all your books in print then your yearly outgoing is £400. Guestimating that only around 10 per cent of those books (five) are long-term keepers, you’ve spent £80, in effect, on finding books to hold on to.

But if you buy all your books in ebook format initially, your yearly outgoing is £200. Then you go out and re-buy five of the books in print (£40). Total outlay is £240; cost per retained book is £48.

But enough of the bewildering maths (always a subject that sent me off into a romantic daydream in my school days). Though the logic of buying all books in ebook format first may be sound, to do so is to lose out on a whole world of enjoyment and symbolism. You miss out on

  • Browsing for hours in book shops, and queuing at the checkout with a new book or two, just for you, which gives you a warm glow in your stomach.
  • Rummaging among second-hand books in markets and back-street stores, and finding little gems  for a song.
  • Receiving a book as a gift – something you’d never have chosen – and having the chance to broaden your horizons.
  • The smell, the sound, the feel of holding books in your hand.
  • The sense of risk, the thrill of taking a gamble on a new book. Doing so is an investment of faith, and there is something wonderfully exciting about sitting down to page through an unknown story. Yes, you may get to the end and feel the book wasn’t quite for you. But oh, you may get to the end and have loved, loved the book, and that object, that collection of printed pages bound together, will become an item you’ll treasure forever. Each time you pick it up you will remember the first read, the first experience. It becomes a little piece of you.

For me, then, while I’ll continue to read a mixture of print and ebooks, I don’t think I can ever become a follower of the ‘Try before you fully buy’ school. I need the magic. I need the connection.

How about you? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Picture the scene:

You’re having coffee with a dear friend, and the subject turns to books you’ve read recently. You tell her about a romance novel you really enjoyed. She tells you about a work of literary fiction she found moving and inspiring.

‘That sounds wonderful,’ you say.

‘It is,’ she replies. ‘Look, I have my copy in my bag. I’ll lend it to you.’

‘Thank you!’ you say. ‘And here, have my copy of this passionate, evocative, moving love story. It will make your heart melt.’

‘Thank you!’ she says. ‘I can’t wait to read it.’

Just writing this scenario that brings a smile to my face. It’s a beautiful example of friendship, of like minds connecting, of generosity and of sisterhood. It’s celebratory of books – those wonderful bindings of paper that bring joy and light and learning. And it’s the beginning of what will certainly be an enriching experience for both friends.

For me, book recommendations are to be treasured. Quite simply, a book can mean much more when a friend has recommended it you, saying, ‘Read this – I think you’ll like it.’ The book becomes a gift, and with each word you not only take in the meaning, but you also search for extra meaning, for why your friend thought this book was worth your reading.

Some of my favourite books have been discovered via recommendations, and I have also read books I probably would never have chosen for myself, which has widened my horizons. In addition, I have got much out of recommending books to others, especially when they, too, have fallen in love with a novel.

For me, the very best recommendations are accompanied with a physical copy of the book. The handing over of a novel that you love is by no means easy (and only possible if you trust the friend to care for it and return it; or are prepared to buy another copy tout de suite), but it really does deepen the meaning of the gesture. The book is a gift – a hope for enjoyment embodied in a beautiful object. And if the book is old and well-thumbed, so much the better, for your friend will be humbled by your sharing such a loved object.

But of course we are living in a digital revolution, and so recommendations without physical books are increasingly more commonplace. I love the website Goodreads for sharing recommendations and getting tips for new books from those of others. Each week I post a review of a book I’ve enjoyed there (and on my website) for other readers to benefit from, and I browse the books that others are reading and recommending. It’s a rich source indeed for discovering wonderful new writers.

If you’re anything like me, you feel sad and deflated and a little lost when you finish a book, and light and happy and excited when you’re about to start a new one that you really like the look of. Book recommendations are the perfect solution to keeping hold of the latter feeling to minimise the impact of the former.

So recommend away, I say. Talk about books you like. Ask what others are reading. Lend out your books. Let them go if need be and buy new ones. Share the book love!

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