Kate Mulgrew’s ‘Born with Teeth’ and the impact she has had on my life

Born With Teeth CoverI was going to write a regular review of Kate Mulgrew’s Born with Teeth: A Memoir, but then I read it, and a simple review is not enough to express how I feel. This will be the most personal post I’ve ever written and I’m very nervous about it, but it feels like the right thing to do.

If you know me or are a regular reader of my blog, then you know I have been a fan of Kate and her work since I was 8 years old when I saw my first episode of Star Trek: Voyager, in which she played Captain Kathryn Janeway. I’m 27 now and my admiration and appreciation for her has grown exponentially over the years. She is an exceptionally talented actress; a wonderful orator; incredibly gracious towards her fans (I speak from experience); and a true joy to watch in any role she plays.

She is also, as it turns out, a beautifully gifted writer. Her lyrical eloquence weaves a tale so vivid and engaging that I could see it all playing out in my mind as if it were a movie. Kate lays out in unapologetic honesty a life filled with adventure, grief, trauma, and, above all, a tremendous passion for her work and her family. As she shares the intimate details of the pain of giving up her daughter for adoption, surviving a rape, losing two sisters and the kind of heartbreak only true love can bring, we are also treated to riveting stories of romance, travel and the drama of stage and screen. Kate is an astute observer of human nature and she uses this skill to craft dynamic and colourful depictions of the variety of interesting people she has encountered throughout her fascinating life.

Being the massive Star Trek fan that I am, the chapters about Kate’s time on Voyager were a real treat and I’m certainly delighted that she included them, but even if they hadn’t been there I would still have absolutely loved the book. At times intensely passionate and at others desperately sad, this was a memoir that had me completely hooked from beginning to end and left me with a profound sense of gratitude towards, and a greater understanding of, a woman I have admired for most of my life.

I love and look up to Kate for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, but there is one other reason that I have never spoken of because it was too painful and I didn’t think I was strong enough to give voice to it. But then I read Kate’s memoir, and the courage and bravery of her words gave me the confidence to find my own, and reminded me that there are some things which should not be kept hidden.

I grew up with a severely autistic younger brother whose inability to speak and frequent violent outbursts made for a very frightening and isolating environment in which to grow up. In their struggle to cope my parents inadvertently placed a tremendous burden of responsibility on me at a time when I was far too young to deal with it. I operated under the misguided belief that if I told them how terrified I was of my brother, how often he attacked me and how much I wished I could just go out and play with my friends, that my family would fall apart. I’m from a rural area in Scotland where there are few resources for special needs children, and with such little support our lives became subject entirely to my brother’s needs.

Eventually, the situation became untenable and my brother was moved to a specialist residential care facility where he could have the quality of life that we could not provide. By then I had become terribly withdrawn, fearful and anxious and struggled to relate to my family and friends. I was already a huge fan of Star Trek: Voyager and Captain Janeway was my favourite character. To help with my anxiety I took a Janeway action figure to school with me. It made me feel protected and gave me courage to get through the day; a tangible reminder of the strength and fortitude of the character herself.

This figure was far from a good likeness of Kate to begin with, made worse by its many paint-scraping trips in and out of my schoolbag!

This figure was far from a good likeness of Kate to begin with, made worse by its many paint-scraping trips in and out of my schoolbag!

A few years later I started to develop health problems. It’s a long and complicated story but, in a nutshell, an undiagnosed autoimmune disease left me with permanent damage to my digestive system and significant problems with my nervous system. When it all began the physical pain only added to the emotional pain I had been feeling for years and eventually it all got too much. One night, while I was watching an episode of Voyager, as I often did to make myself feel better, I was sitting with a pile of prescription medications and my mind started to wander.

What would happen if I took them all at once? Would I have time to sneak into my parents’ drinks cabinet and knock back a few bottles as well before they found me?

I have heard many people refer to suicide as a selfish act. It’s not. It’s an act of pure desperation. You don’t think about the devastating impact it will have on the people who love you. All you can think about is making it stop, about silencing the storm inside you, because how can life be worth living if every day, every second, feels like this? How can you possibly be of any use to anyone? There is no hope in that moment that it will ever get better, there is only the crippling fear and pain which has brought you there.

I took the first few pills. I don’t remember what they were, little pink, innocuous looking things, and just as I was about to reach for more, I heard a powerful and authoritative voice projecting from the television:

“In command school, they taught us to always remember that manoeuvring a starship is a very delicate process, but over the years, I’ve learned that, sometimes, you just have to punch your way through.”

It was Kate Mulgrew speaking as Captain Janeway, and in that moment of sheer hopelessness that line was like a bolt of lightning illuminating a very long and dark night. In this episode, (‘Parallax’, the second episode of Season One), Voyager is trapped in the event horizon of a quantum singularity. Their only escape route is closing fast and the situation looks hopeless. As I continued to watch the scene unfold, Voyager’s struggle suddenly became a metaphor for my own. My hand remained suspended over the pills as I watched Janeway urge her helmsman to “keep it together” as the ship was rocked by turbulence and structural damage.

When Voyager burst triumphantly from the quantum singularity, a surge of hope rushed through me as I began to believe for the first time that maybe I could escape too. I spoke to my parents and within a week my doctor had diagnosed me with clinical depression and OCD and I soon began treatment at a centre specialising in adolescent mental health.

As well as supporting me through my recovery, the psychologists there helped me to realise that creativity was the means by which I could find my way back to myself. I discovered that I could write poetry, and over the months that followed I crafted a path for myself made out of words and metaphors that personified my depression into a force I could fight. When I came to the end of my treatment, the lead psychologist asked if he could keep some of my poems to help the other patients, which I very happily agreed to.

Now, 12 years later, I have a job in the industry I love (publishing), two university degrees, and, most importantly, wonderful relationships with my hugely supportive family and friends. I write as often as I can and also run an online support group for siblings of those with Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and Down’s Syndrome, in an effort to provide the kind of help I so desperately needed when I was young.

In 2012 I had the incredible experience of meeting Kate at a Star Trek convention in London. Living in Scotland and finding travel quite a challenge I had assumed that I would never get the chance to meet her, so when I did it was like a dream and I still feel so happy whenever I think about it. My mother kindly made the trip to London with me to give me support and said that she had never seen me as happy as I was after I met Kate, who was as kind, gracious and generous in person as I had always imagined her to be.

Kate and I

Whenever I find myself dealing with difficult emotions, trying to adjust to the side effects of a new medication or struggling with the physical pain and fatigue that are my constant companions, I see Kate as Janeway standing on the bridge of Voyager, telling her crew that sometimes you just have to punch your way through. And I do.


Kate now stars as Galina “Red” Reznikov on the Netflix series Orange is the New Black and she’s absolutely terrific, as is the show itself. You can read my review of the book the show is based on here.

The following are links to some great interviews and reviews of Born with Teeth. Read it. Seriously. Kate Autograph 1

The Washington Post

Publishers Weekly

LA Times

The Mary Sue

CBS interview

One last thing, a shout out to my dear friend Stefani, who very kindly sent me Kate’s book across the Atlantic from Mississippi to Scotland. She has an awesome blog over at Caught Read Handed that I would encourage you to check out if you love books and nerdy things!

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The Chocolate Book Tag

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I was tagged by my good friend Stefani over at Caught Read Handed to do the Chocolate Book Tag. Yay! Unsurprisingly, writing this made me want chocolate, so after I post this I’ll be munching on some Terry’s Chocolate Orange segments. Yum! 🙂

Dark Chocolate: A book that covers a dark topic (abuse, domestic violence, rape, loneliness, bullying, death, etc)

The Shock of the Fall  by Nathan Filer

This is about getting inside the mind of a young man suffering from schizophrenia, who spends much of his time trying to convince those around him that his dead brother is communicating with him. It was very powerful but also quite upsetting at times.

White Chocolate: Your favourite light-hearted/humorous read

Motherhood and Hollywood: How to Get a Job Like Mine by Patricia Heaton

The autobiography of the Emmy Award-winning star of one of my favourite comedy shows, Everybody Loves Raymond. Heaton’s dry wit and shameless honesty never fail to make me laugh.

Milk Chocolate: A book that has a lot of hype that you’re dying to read

Star Trek Voyager: Acts of Contrition by Kirsten Beyer

The next in the post-TV series line of novels, this one comes out next month and I absolutely can’t wait! Beyer has done a fantastic job of taking over from Christie Golden and continuing the epic adventures of the crew of the USS Voyager, and I’m so excited to find out where she takes these awesome characters next.

Chocolate with a caramel centre: Name a book that made you feel all gooey in the middle while you were reading it

Never Have I Ever: My Life (so far) Without a Date by Katie Heaney

For anyone who just hasn’t quite mastered the whole “dating” business, this book is a great read that will make you feel great about being free and single in your twenties (if you didn’t already!) Heaney is adorably hopeless at the dating game, and her hilarious commentary on her failed attempts at finding “the one” made me feel much better about my own dismal dating record and had me smiling all the way through.

Wafer-free Kit-Kat: Name a book that surprised you lately

Stoner by John Williams

I randomly picked up this book in my local supermarket while I was waiting for a prescription, and I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. The fact that it’s set in the world of academia and the main character is an English literature professor made me relate to his personal struggles even more. There was just something about it that I loved.

Snickers: A book that you are going nuts about

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I could go on and on about how much I love this book, but it’s probably best that you just read my review of it here.

Hot Chocolate with cream and marshmallows: What book would you turn to for a comfort read?

Star Trek Voyager: Mosaic by Jeri Taylor

Yep, another Star Trek novel! My obsession knows no bounds. I wrote about this one in an earlier post about the books which mean the most to me. Suffice it to say, this book is always there for me when I need it.

Box of chocolates: What series have you read that you feel has a wide variety and a little something for everyone?

This is actually a hard one, because most of the series I read are either fantasy or sci-fi, which I know is not for everyone. Going with the idea of variety in a box of chocolates, I’ll just give the top three series which have made a lasting impression on me:

The Banned and the Banished by James Clemens

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Now over to you guys! I’m tagging all you other chocolate loving bibliophiles out there! If you fancy doing this too, leave a link in the comments so I can read it.

That was fun! Now for some chocolate …

The Book Blogger Test

bookbloggertestimageMy good friend Stefani over at Caught Read Handed tagged me in the Book Blogger’s Test. It’s another fun way of finding out more about your fellow bloggers. So here we go!

What are your top three book pet hates?

1) Poorly edited books. I have a publishing degree, so I know how the editorial process works and roughly how many eyes a manuscript typically gets in front of before publication. The odd error here and there is acceptable, nobody’s perfect after all, but if a book is riddled with mistakes like spelling errors, missing words and poor grammar, then I find it really distracting and feel it reflects poorly on the publishing house it came from.

2) Mismatched series covers. I like consistency in my books, so I like all the covers in a series to match. That can get more difficult when a series becomes popular through a film adaptation and suddenly film poster covers are everywhere. I was impatient when trying to get my hands on a copy of The Hunger Games a few years ago, and the film cover version was all I could find. I went on to buy the other two books in the series which have different (and much nicer) covers. It annoys me to this day that the three don’t match.

3) This is a pet hate I have about my own reading habits. I have a compulsion where I have to finish reading a book, even if I hate it. It took me 5 months to read Moby Dick because I kept putting it aside for several weeks at a time because I was so bored, but I did finish it!

Describe your perfect reading spot.

I’ve been reading in bed since I was a kid, so I would say that’s my favourite reading spot. I have a health condition that sometimes means I have to spend days in bed, so books get me through those days or nights when I can’t sleep.

Tell us three book confessions.

1) I don’t own an e-reader, and never plan to. I’m not going to get into the physical books vs. e-books debate here, both have their own merits, but for me e-books just don’t hold any appeal and I would much rather have the ink and paper version.

2) The number of Star Trek novels I own outnumber all my other fiction books. If you’ve read some of my other posts you’ll already know that I’m an ÜBER Star Trek fan, so this is hardly surprising. I’ve been reading them since I was about 9, a year or so after I first became a fan. I was too young to understand everything that was going on (especially the technobabble), but I loved them all the same.

3) I often re-read sections of my favourite books, or sometimes the whole book. Even if I have a pile of new books I’m looking forward to reading sitting on my bookshelf, I often feel the urge to re-read what I’ve already read because I love it so much. This happened just yesterday, when I pulled out one of my Star Trek novels and re-read some of my favourite parts, just because I felt like it. I love how doing so brings back memories of the time and place I read the book the first time – in this case, sitting out in the sun in a local park while I was living in Bridge of Allan studying for my Masters degree – and how it makes me sit back and think “yeah, this book is as brilliant as I remember.”

When was the last time you cried during a book?

Honestly, I hardly ever cry when I’m reading. I got a bit teary with The Fault in Our Stars, but there was no actual crying. It’s been years so I can’t really remember, but I think there might have been some tears when I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

How many books are on your bedside table?

Just the one I’m currently reading; The Humans by Matt Haig. Since I mostly read in bed there’s always a book on my bedside table. My TBR pile lives on my bookcase.

What is your favourite snack to eat while you’re reading?

I can’t say I ever eat while I’m reading, but if I did it would probably be some form of chocolate.

Name three books you would recommend to everyone.

1) Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

2) I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

3) The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Show us a picture of your favourite shelf on your bookcase.

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This is the shelf containing my favourite books. A dodo and a robin watch over them for me. Sorry it’s a bit blurry!

Write how much books mean to you in three words.

Imagination’s open doors. Books are gateways into the imaginations of their authors. They give us access to limitless worlds and possibilities; some that we could never hope to find in the real world. I think this is one of the main reasons why some people, including me, believe that the written word is mankind’s greatest achievement.  I’m going to drop in a Star Trek reference here, the central tenet of Vulcan philosophy: “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.” That’s what books give us, and there is little else on earth that has that kind of power.

What is your biggest reading secret?

I bend the spines of paperbacks on purpose while I’m reading them. I know some of you will be horrified by this. I have my reasons for doing so, which I explain in detail in another post.

Who I’m Tagging:

1) lilajune’s book saloon

2) 101 Books

3) smallgirlbigdreams1993 

4) Adventures in Writing

The Liebster Blog Award

My awesome fellow blogger and friend Caught Read Handed nominated me for the Liebster Blog Award. Yay! It’s given to blogs with fewer than 300 followers to spread the word about them and hopefully increase readership of their posts.

The rules are as follows:

  • List 11 facts about yourself
  • Answer the 11 questions asked by whoever nominated you
  • Ask 11 new questions to 9 bloggers with less than 300 followers. (You can’t re-nominate the blog that nominated you)award badge picture
  • Go to their blog and tell them that they have been nominated

So, here we go!

11 facts about me:

1) I am a massive, MASSIVE Star Trek fan. I have been for almost nineteen years and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. My favourite series is Voyager, but I also love Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation. I have a soft spot for The Original Series, but I’m not too keen on Enterprise. I have issues with the re-launch Abrams films, but for the most part I love the others. In 2012 I got to go a convention in London and meet some of the actors, including Kate Mulgrew (Captain Kathryn Janeway) my absolute favourite actress, ever. It was quite possibly the best weekend I’ve ever had.

2) My health seriously sucks. It has done for the past thirteen years. My immune system didn’t read its job description properly and likes to beat the crap out of the body it’s supposed to protect. I have so much prescription medication I could open my own street side pharmacy, and my parents like to joke that they would return me to my manufacturer if only they could find the receipt. All this makes me thankful that one of my favourite hobbies is reading, which requires very little physical effort, and books help me take my mind off things and keep me company on the days when I need to stay in bed.

3) I have a bit of an obsession with the USA. My undergraduate degree was in American Studies, and most of my favourite literature comes from there. For years I wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and visit the Redwood National Park. I’m delighted to say that I’ve now done all these things, and have a new list of other places in the States I really want to visit.

4) I love nature, and I’m lucky enough to live in the very scenic Scottish Borders. The only thing missing here is waterfalls, which I love, but thankfully there are others in Scotland. My favourites of the ones I’ve seen are the Grey Mare’s Tail in the Moffat Valley and the Glenashdale Falls on the Isle of Arran.

5) I have two poems published in two anthologies which were produced by the charity Poetry in Print to raise money for children with Leukaemia. Unfortunately, the charity doesn’t exist anymore, as the founders had to divert their time and resources to caring for their daughter who was fighting the disease.

6) As well as my undergrad in American Studies, I also have a Masters degree in Publishing Studies. I definitely want to get a PhD at some point too, most likely in American literature.

7) I run an online support group for the siblings of people with Autism, Aspergers Syndrome and Down’s Syndrome. It’s a private group, but if you or anyone you know would like to join, you can find it here.

8) I really, really love dogs, and I’ve lived with at least one (often three) since I was two. We used to breed them and had two litters with a total of fifteen puppies, one of which we kept. At the moment we have two black labradors, Basil and Diesel, and they’re awesome.

9) I have quite a varied work experience profile. I’ve been a shop assistant, a taxation assistant, an English tutor, an archives assistant, an admin assistant and a political intern. Some of these were short term and I worked a few at the same time. I enjoyed trying out different fields before I settled on publishing.

10) I have an oddly intense hatred of blueberries. I have nothing against anyone who likes them, and I don’t really know why I feel so strongly, but I absolutely, unequivocally, categorically HATE THEM.

11) My surname is Marjoribanks, but it’s pronounced March-banks. It’s a weird old Scottish spelling and it’s really annoying. No one EVER gets it right.

Questions from Caught Read Handed:

1) Why did you start blogging? Did you read a book that pushed you into it like I did?

I really enjoy writing so I’ve been interested in starting up a blog for a while now. What gave me the final push was my Publishing Studies degree, where my teachers encouraged us to have a blog to practice our editorial skills, express our opinions and add to our online presence to enhance our appeal to potential employers. Plus, it’s really fun, and I like having my own little space where I can write about anything I want and share it with others.

2) What’s your least favourite book-to-movie adaptation? Most favourite?

I’ve been disappointed in quite a few book-to-film adaptations, but the worst offender for me is the 2007 adaptation of I Am Legend. I love this book, and I love Will Smith, so I was really looking forward to seeing the film. Unfortunately, the powerful and thought-provoking ending provided by Richard Matheson in the book was completely turned on its head to result in a heroic act of self-sacrifice which completely missed the point of the story. I understand that adaptations don’t have to be faithful to the book they are based on, but this one still really bothers me. My most favourite adaptation(s) would probably be the Harry Potter films, although I really, really wish they had kept the final battle between Harry and Voldemort the way it was in the book. It was so much better!

3) If you could live inside any book, what would it be?

My next blog post is actually going to be about this, so I’ll leave this one for now.

4) What’s your go-to book to reread?

I enjoy rereading all my favourite books, but I think my go-to would have to be Star Trek Voyager: Mosaic by Jeri Taylor. It’s the one I typically read in the middle of the night if I’m having trouble sleeping. I’ve read it so many times that I can just pick it up and start reading from any page, or pick particular chapters depending on how I feel. It lives in the top drawer of my bedside table so I don’t have to get up to reach it.

5) What’s your most recently read favourite book?

Definitely S (Ship of Theseus) by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. It’s possibly the best example of metafiction I’ve ever read, which is awesome as I love that genre. As well as an engaging story (two stories, actually), interesting and relatable characters and a really cool concept, it has lots of inserts like postcards, letters and maps which add to the narrative and make it even more interesting. I loved it.

6) If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who would it be?

That’s a really tough one, but I would have to go with my favourite poet, Robert Frost. If he were alive, I would love to sit outside with him with a cup of herbal tea and chat to him about his work. I would particularly love to know what he had in mind when he wrote my favourite poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’. I know what it means to me, and how I’ve interpreted it, but it would be great to know what his intentions were and what it meant to him.

7) Who is your favourite book boyfriend/girlfriend?

Since I don’t have an actual real life boyfriend I’m going to be greedy and pick three fictional ones: Er’ril from The Banned and the Banished series, Gale from The Hunger Games and Eric from S (Ship of Theseus). If there’s a character out there who is a combination of all three of these guys, then I’ll have him too.

8) Where is your favourite place to read? Do you have a book nook/reading chair? Do you read in bed?

I almost always read in bed before I go to sleep; it’s like a barrier for me between the day and night and helps me get to sleep. If I’m tired and struggling to stay awake but really enjoying what I’m reading, then I’ll shut one eye and keep going. One of my favourite lazy day things to do is lounge about in bed with a good book.

9) Have you ever bought a book based on just its cover? Were you disappointed?

It’s not something I usually do, but about a year ago I bought The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry based on the cover. I’d seen it in my local bookshops several times and I kept being drawn to it, so eventually I bought it. I was really disappointed. The plot dragged on and didn’t capture my interest, the characters were more irritating than endearing and the ending was just bleh. Definitely not worth it.

10) Do you have one book that you attribute for creating your love of reading?

I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t love reading. There’s home movies of me from as young as 18 months flipping through books and smiling. The first one I really remember loving was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which my mum read to me as a bedtime story. The copy we had was a beautifully illustrated hardback edition and I remember really enjoying looking at the pictures as well as hearing the story.

11) Because I’m a wanderer at heart: if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

There are many places in the USA that I still want to visit, but my dream holiday would be either to Geirangerfjord in Norway or the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland. That’s a tough question though because these countries, along with Iceland, have some of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls and valleys, so I would be delighted to visit any of them.

Now for my nominations:

Since I haven’t been in the blogging game for very long, I haven’t quite managed 9 nominations, but I really like the following blogs and I think they deserve greater recognition:

GeekOut & Smile

Literary Vittles

Misthoughts and Wonderings

Exploring Classics

Daily Poetry Fragments

My questions for you:

1) What do you enjoy most about blogging?

2) What’s the most unusual book you’ve ever read? (could be theme, format, writing style etc)

3) Was there a book series you started reading but gave up on because you lost interest?

4) What’s the worst book you’ve ever read? Why did you dislike it?

5) What’s your favourite bookshop? (could be a chain or an indie)

6) Has there ever been a book character which turned out exactly the way you imagined they would when you saw them in the film adaptation?

7) Have you ever visited a location just because it was featured in a book?

8) Do you have a particular bookmark you always use, or do you just use whatever is lying around?

9) Do you mind if the spines or pages of your paperbacks get creased, or is it important to you to keep them looking like new?

10) What’s the best library you’ve ever visited?

11) If you could spend a day in the shoes of any literary character, who would it be?

I’m looking forward to seeing your answers!

Spine-benders vs. Spine-preservers: How do you treat your books?

Books can be truly beautiful objects. Having recently completed a postgraduate degree in publishing studies and learned a lot about the design and production process, I appreciate this all the more. Take the Penguin Classics hardback series, for example. Designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, these linen covers have been stamped with beautiful, vibrant and colourful depictions of images representing the novels they enclose. They will make a wonderful edition to any book lover’s collection.

I want all of them. No, really. ALL of them. Even Pride and Prejudice. (Sorry, Austen fans, I’m a Brontë girl). © Penguin Books.

I want all of them. No, really. ALL of them. Even Pride and Prejudice. (Sorry, Austen fans, I’m a Brontë girl). © Penguin Books.

Paperbacks can also be beautifully designed, and many of them are. As a great example, you should check out the book trailer for the illustrated version of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which provides an awesome preview of the artwork in both the hardback and paperback editions.

In my experience, people who love reading paperbacks often fall into two distinct categories: the spine-benders and the spine-preservers. The former bend the spines of their books while reading them; the latter make sure to keep their book spines intact and looking like new. I have a confession to make. My name is Jo, and I’m a spine-bender. It seems to be an inherited trait. My mother is a spine-bender too, and, since I got my love of reading from her, it seems only natural that I would follow her manner of reading as well. This habit of mine has horrified some of my spine-preserver friends. Whenever I borrow a book from one of them, I make sure to leave the spine untouched. If I accidentally slip back into my spine-bending ways, which has happened once or twice, I buy them a brand new copy. After all, to us bibliophiles our books are precious objects, and, when borrowed, should be treated with respect. Or else.

So, if I love books so much, why would I intentionally damage them? One reason is I genuinely find them easier and more comfortable to read if I can open them out properly; but there is a more meaningful reason than that. When I first pick up a book in a bookshop, I see a world of possibilities. Will I love this book? Will I hate it? Will it have a profound effect on me, or will it leave no impression at all? When you pick up a book from my collection, you’ll probably be able to answer those questions. Like most book lovers, I can’t fit all of them onto one shelf, or even into one bookcase. Instead, a small selection of my favourites sit on a special shelf in my bedroom where I can see them every day.

My faithful robin friend watches over my collection. He’ll peck you if you try to steal one.

My faithful robin friend watches over my collection. He’ll peck you if you try to steal one.

With a glance, you can tell which ones I’ve read the most – their spines are seriously creased. If you pick one of them up, Book One of the Banned and the Banished series by James Clemens, for example, it will look a little worn, the pages a little ragged. You might even find a piece of paper or two tucked between the pages containing my thoughts and feelings about particular passages. Maybe some old index tab stickers leftover from my university days will draw your attention to a quote that I thought was important or meaningful. The book itself might help you learn still more about my reading habits by simply falling open at a particular page; one I’ve read so many times that the spine has completely cracked.

Deep breaths, spine-preservers, stay with me here.

If you’re looking for the book that means the most to me, you won’t find it on this shelf. It has lived in the top drawer of my bedside table ever since I first got it in 1996, at the tender age of nine. As you can see, it’s pretty beaten up. It looks like it’s been read dozens of times and travelled with me to many places. It has. When I look at its curling pages, its creased cover and worn spine, I don’t see a book which has been poorly cared for. I see a book that has a history, a unique character that sets it apart from the untouched copies in a bookshop. I see the times it has given me comfort. Made me laugh. Made me think. Made me cry. Even just holding it makes me feel better.

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My eighteen-year long love affair with Star Trek and why it means so much to me is a whole other story. I might write about that another time.

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I have nothing against the development of e-books. I understand their advantages and that they can lead more people to a love of reading. To me, though, they’re nothing more than data files. Other than the words they contain, they have no character. They remain the same no matter how many times they are read. They can’t absorb the ink of an author’s autograph or a message from a loved one. You can’t hold them in your hands, only the device they have been downloaded onto.  And, the most important drawback for me – you can’t put them on a bookshelf. These limitations don’t matter to everyone, but they matter to me.

That being said, if a book I really wanted to read was only available in digital format, I would still read it. I wouldn’t deny myself that book just because it was in a format other than paper and ink. I don’t agree with the idea I’ve heard flaunted by some literature snobs that those who only read e-books are not ‘real readers’. That’s nonsense. Of course they are. Whether for convenience, financial reasons or the attraction of interactive features, for some people e-books are their preferred way of reading. For me, though, the way I interact with a book is inextricably linked to the format in which I read it. In my case, that means paper and ink all the way. I don’t mind if that means my suitcase is a little heavier when I travel. I don’t care that the book costs a bit more or that it might take longer to get to me. Those extra little hassles are more than worth it for the reading experience I love.

I’m actually dealing with one of those hassles right now. The release date for a Star Trek novel I’ve been waiting fifteen months for has been pushed back by two weeks. The release date for the paperback, that is. The e-book is readily available now. I could have it in about five minutes via my Google Books app for £4.99 if I was so inclined. I’m not. Sure, it’s frustrating to have to wait for longer, but I’ve already waited fifteen months, so what’s another few weeks if I know I’ll enjoy the reading experience more if I just have a little patience?

In the Star Trek universe, set in the 23rd and 24th centuries, for all their advanced technology, the characters are often seen reading from physical books as well as from data pads. The two exist side by side. That’s how it should be. Unfortunately, publishing in both print and digital formats isn’t always financially feasible these days.

Captain Picard often had his nose in a traditional book, particularly the works of Shakespeare. © Paramount Studios.

Captain Picard often had his nose in a traditional book, particularly the works of Shakespeare. © Paramount Studios.

Some might say that I haven’t given e-books a fair chance. That may be true. I’ve never read an e-book from start to finish. I got about halfway through one of the free downloads that came with my Google Books app before I gave up. I just wasn’t enjoying the reading experience; which in turn meant I wasn’t enjoying the book as much either. The app came already installed on my smart phone, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have bothered with it. I borrowed my uncle’s Kindle last year and tried to read a book on that. Same problem. E-books just aren’t my thing.

Does this mean that I’m a hopelessly out of touch fuddy-duddy who has no business going after a job in the increasingly digitised world of publishing? No, I don’t think so. The field I’m most interested in is academic/educational publishing, and I’m really enthusiastic about new forms of scholarly publication like open access journals. I may not like e-books when I’m reading for pleasure, but online resources and digitally published research articles were invaluable to me while I was at university. I would love to be involved with academic publishing and help to promote information sharing in the digital age. Similarly, if I was able to work with a fiction publisher, I would be just as dedicated to producing high quality e-books as I would be to physical books. Just because I’m personally not keen on reading them, doesn’t mean I have anything against others doing so, especially if access to e-books encourages people to read more.

Whichever branch of the publishing industry I find myself in, I will gladly go to work each day ready to enthusiastically launch myself into any project I’m asked to. But when I go home, and curl up by the fire in an old armchair in the house I hope to have one day, it’ll be with a physical book. Be it one of my old creased companions, or a new friend waiting to be etched with my memories.