Why books can’t be written off in Sheffield

Richard Welsh of Rhyme and Reason.
Richard Welsh of Rhyme and Reason.
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“Over the past year we’ve seen a rise in people coming in and buying books, and saying how nice it is to have something physical to read,” said Sadie Hatch, nearing the end of her weekday shift at Rhyme and Reason on Ecclesall Road in Sheffield.

“Most of them are so brilliantly presented, and some have lovely inscriptions on them,” said the bookshop’s retail assistant. “I don’t think that translates as well on screen.”

Sadie is in good company in prizing the printed word - the writer Alan Bennett once called books ‘devices to ignite the imagination’.

But a significant number of homes now appear to be turning elsewhere for inspiration.

Figures out this week reported that one in 10 households in Yorkshire alone do not now contain a single book, despite the fact that their occupants have an average of eight devices that connect to the internet. The number of homes without books rises still further among those occupied by 18-to-24 year-olds, with as many as 20 per cent keeping not a single hard copy.

Lindsey Rix of Aviva UK General Insurance, which compiled the data, said: “It is clear from our research that our possessions are changing as the world advances, with traditional pastimes often making way for modern alternatives.”

Across the UK, the average number of books per house is put at 104, with seven per cent of homes housing more than 500 volumes. Among over 55s, that number rises to 11 per cent.

Ms Rix took a more objective view than the esteemed playwright Bennett, however.

“Everyone’s home is individual to them and there’s no right or wrong when it comes to what people keep in them,” she said.

But Brian Tee, of the Porter Bookshop on Sharrow Vale Road, said the figures pointed to a ‘wider social issue’.

“Society is a bit uprooted and precarious and people don’t have much in the way of grounding or solidarity - reading, and just having books around you, gives you that,” he said.

“Books give a sense of continuity and history - a past and future at the same time.”

The oldest tomes in Brian’s second-hand bookshop date from the 1680s.

“Holding that in your hand is a unique experience,” he said. “If you pick a book up, and its yours, a little bit of magic happens.”

Back at Rhyme and Reason, Sadie said she was ‘surprised’ by the statistics.

“People are still reading. We have a lot of very regular customers who come in and buy lots of books - for adults and children. There have been so many funding cuts to libraries, more people are having to buy books.”