In this Feb. 17, 2018 photo, shoppers browse among the narrow rows of books at The Book Loft of German Village in Columbus, Ohio. The 40-year-old bookstore features 32 rooms of books. Picture: Jonathan Elderfield/AP.
I was delighted to read a story in the International Express newspaper, saying that book sales in Britain had grown to a record level. Almost £6 billion (R108bn) worth of books had been sold last year, according to the article.

I don’t know what that is in rand but it’s a pretty impressive sum. We’re talking real books here, not electronic stuff. Book sales in Britain rose 5% for the year, and exports of books by 8%. I’m hoping there’s been a similar trend in South Africa.

I was pleased because I was beginning to think the world’s brains had shrunk down to fit into a computer chip. The statistics mean that in spite of our addiction to Tweetface and Gooble and all the other electric connections, people are still finding the time and the desire to open a real old-fashioned paper book. There’s something very special about a book, its feel, its smell, the feel of crisp new pages, or well-thumbed old ones, the quiet sigh of a page being turned. That’s magic.

I have tried reading electronic books but I’ve never felt the same about them and always felt slightly guilty about that.

Was I being a literary dinosaur? It seems that a whole lot of others feel the same, so if I am a dinosaur at least I’m in the company of other dinosaurs, and that’s comforting.

Apparently non-fiction books are the top sellers and this includes categories like home care, health advice, DIY, pet care and, as always, cookery books.

One category that seems to be declining in sales is encyclopaedias.

I think this is certainly the case locally because I recently offered a set of encyclopaedias to a local bookshop and was turned away quite firmly.

“Nobody has the bookshelf space for encyclopaedias any more,” the bookshop lady told me, “and besides, if people want to look anything up these days they click on Wikipedia.”

There used to be a time when many people became door-to-door encyclopaedia salesmen and women as a sort of last-resort job. I suppose they’ve become an extinct breed now. Or maybe they’ve switched to flogging cookery books.

Everybody seems to have enough bookshelf space for one more cookbook. I must have at least 30 cookbooks on my kitchen shelf. Most of them have never been opened, apart from that initial drool over the photographs.

When I decide to cook something more daring than my standard shepherd’s pie or macaroni and cheese, I automatically open the same old soup-stained book I always use.

Your favourite cookery writer is rather like your doctor. Once you’ve learnt to trust her, you tend to stay with her. She understands you.

Last Laugh

Two students were discussing the problems of living in student digs. They hated laundry, never even owned an iron or vacuum cleaner, and were not particularly good at cooking.

“I actually bought a cookbook once,” said one, “but it was no use at all.”

“Why?” Asked his friend. “Did the recipes use expensive ingredients?”

“Not really. But they all started with the instruction: “Take a clean dish.”

* "Tavern of the Seas" is a daily column written in the Cape Argus by David Biggs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus