Column: Electrons don’t compare to printed page

Robert Pepper-Smith’s new book is as lovely to hold as it is to read

Friday afternoon I was struck with a moment of panic – facing a ferry ride to the mainland, I didn’t have a book to read.

Then I remembered being three-quarters of the way through Dracula, which I downloaded on my new iPhone a few weeks ago.

It’s a great little app, especially for books like Dracula whose copywright expired long ago and are basically public domain.

When I downloaded, I just finished reading the sequel to the book, written by Bram Stoker’s nephew (hated it) and wanted to re-read the original to see how well the new story jived (it didn’t).

Rather than head to the bookstore, I downloaded it for sheer convenience. Cost is negligible – those types of classics you can pick up for less than $5.

It’s lovely convenient – a 50-minute wait in the doctor’s office last week just flew by with my iBook. But something was missing.

It wasn’t until I picked up Nanaimo author Robert Pepper-Smith’s new novel, House of Spells, that I realized how much I miss holding a book in my hands.

The front and back covers folded inside, creating a leaf, binding thick, unbleached paper. The typeset was clean, indented significantly from the margins, giving the book an overall feel of being made by hand.

I desperately wanted to judge this book by its cover. It’s so pretty.

The novel tells the story of two teenage girls, two friends – one pregnant – who try their best to make the right decisions.

Lacey’s mom, the town midwife, wants Rose to give her baby to a couple which lost theirs at birth. Lacey and her dad, who makes specialized paper by hand, distrust the husband, having suspicions about where his wealth is generated.

It’s set in southeastern B.C., an area I’m familiar with and Pepper-Smith’s descriptions revived those memories and I could smell the cold air and hear the squeak of snow as the characters moved about.

Tight, concise storytelling meant the novel was over quickly, but the depth of characterization in those few words was impressive. The people make the stories and these people resonate long after the final sentence.

In this digital age, I’m afraid of the decline of books, more so than other technology.

Musicians and publicists who know me still send hard copies of their work because I’m a tactile person and like holding the album in my hands, looking at the artwork and reading the liner notes.

My connection to books is even greater, being a writer and all that. I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read.

The smell, the feel and the sound of a new book opening is magical to me – the possibilities for new worlds, new ideas and new adventures are as endless as imagination.

Join Pepper-Smith as he reads from his new book Sept. 17, 1-3 p.m., at the downtown Nanaimo Art Gallery.