Books, CDs and the joy of going retro
I've not been sleeping well recently. Some combination of lockdown cabin fever, racing thoughts about the excitement and challenges of impending fatherhood, random middle-aged worries and musings (not a crisis yet!), and the inevitable mental and physical clutter that always seems to come with the process of de-cluttering.
The other night I got up in the small hours of the morning, chased out of bed by wondering whether to start a digital journal with note taking software or a set of markdown files a la Plain Text Project, tormented by worries over whether I was keeping in touch enough with friends and family, concerned by whether the apartment (and I!) would be ready in time for our newborn. Being in-between series to binge on one of the nine (yes nine!) streaming services we've somehow iteratively acquired on our Roku streaming device, I turned to my e-reader instead. It's a 7.8” Kobo Aura One, and I've been using it recently to download library books, re-reading the Raymond E. Feist novels I enjoyed as a teenager and in my early 20s. However, when I turned it on I found I was in-between novels as well as TV offerings.
Rather than download another, I found myself walking over to the bookshelves I'd recently had to move to make room for an IKEA Sundvik baby changing table. Looking at actual books I couldn't remember the last time I'd read a physical novel front-to-back. Scanning the titles, each one triggered a different set of memories in me of when I'd read them before, and what my life had been like at the time. Some memories stronger than others but tangible in a way that the act of re-reading novels on an e-reader isn't. Don't get me wrong, I love my Kobo – the reading experience on a large version like mine is better than a paperback novel in many ways. I like having physical books around but the magical ability to store a library of them in one device sure makes travelling and moving easier! Anyway, I picked one up (“On the Edge” by Ilona Andrews) and started reading.
Maybe it was just something I need right now. Something simple, unplugged and immersive.
Similarly, I've been rediscovering my CD collection while working from home. Normally I listen to a radio station I like (Absolute Radio at the moment) rather than Spotify etc. but a CD is great for a whole host of reasons. Firstly, how often these days do people actually listen to a whole album from start to finish rather than cherry-picking their favourite hits in a curated playlist or using an initial song/artist as a launchpad for an algorithm-driven journey into the unknown? An album moves you through the songs arranged in the order the artist (or record company execs) wanted it to be, the highs and lows, the fast and slow songs all in the sonic sequence they wanted to share with the world. As an aside, I do remember the thrill that came when CD players innovated the random play option – an experience matched only at the time by the “Groove”/“Bass boost” button, designed specifically to annoy your parents/neighbours.
Secondly, in a similar way to the books, the CDs each tell as story. Both with their artwork and sleeve notes but also reminding me of when I bought them. Guns 'n' Roses and Metallica mark my teenage hard rock years. Dido and David Gray paint some of the colours of my Masters. Lionel Richie's Greatest Hits even has a WH Smith receipt in it from 1992! My multi-year love affair with Heather Nova is recorded in CDs from her rock chick days to her most recent album, spanning gigs I went to in London's Shepherd's Bush Empire (Oyster/Siren era), sitting with friends and cans of Red Stripe in the pews of Union Chapel (its own DVD!), to queuing nervously in Berkeley's Crate and Barrel a few years ago for a signed copy of “The Way it Feels”.
My analogue childhood roots leave me with a real appreciation of these physical items. I wonder what my digital-native child will think of them in years to come and what will remind them of their formative reading and listening experiences?
Entry 10 of my participation in the “100 days to offload” challenge. Find out more and join in!