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This trip to Canada, nearly over, marks the first such trip here, or anywhere outside my Svaneti mountains, during which I won’t have visited the largest bookshop I could find and spent some hours there just... browsing.

In Canada, it’s usually a Chapters branch in Edmonton, supermarket-sized and with its own Starbucks built in. A bibliophile’s paradise, where no one tells you you’ve been there too long, and you can wander from section to section, checking out what’s new since you were last in. Take a book, or a stack of them, find a sofa, and absorb for a while. Read in the coffee shop, drink among the bookshelves.

Once, short of time and ideas for Christmas, I gave everyone on my family list the same thing: a $10 gift certificate to Chapters. (We have price limits on Christmas presents in my family, to help us focus on the meaning of this holiday). Only one family member couldn’t imagine finding anything useful among the tens of thousands of books on offer, and so gave their card to another. This made me angry, but it’s a free world. Everyone else found something just right for themselves.

When I lived in south-west England from 1990 through mid-1991, I had library cards to my village branch, as well as that of the town three miles away and the bigger town about twelve miles further. For me, one of the things which has defined “a place I can live in” has been to have either a library or a bookshop, preferably both, the latter ideally offering old as well as new works.

The last thing I do before turning out my night light is... read a few pages. True story, ask my wife.

So what’s changed on this trip? Have I stopped reading?

No, but I’m mostly reading screens now, instead of pages.

Don’t get me wrong—I love the very smell, the feel and look of printed books. Always have, always will.

But whenever I travelled, it used to be my habit to attempt to take a book for every day of being away from home, lug them all with me somehow. Not because I expected to read a book a day, but simply to have a good subset of the choices my home library afforded me. A heavy habit at the best of times.

For a few years now, I’ve switched to an e-book reader. I started out with the smallest one I could find, the cheapest and least feature-filled in order to have wasted the least money if I was wasting my time. So, black and white and grays only, no sound or video capabilities, not even needing to have wi-fi. Just a half-decent storage capability; say, minimum half a gigabyte, to give enough choice of material, and preferably sized to fit a big pocket while in its case. A Kobo Mini or a small Sony model, now discontinued, have been my choices so far, both serving well. They don’t flicker a whit, have long battery lives and are sharp and contrasty enough not to strain my eyes at all. Even a built-in light isn’t a necessity.

Was it an easy switch? Much simpler than I thought it could be for a book fanatic like myself, who amassed 700 “real” books in St Petersburg, Russia, and then 800 in Tbilisi, Georgia. I’ve never looked back, really. The sheer convenience of the thing has persuaded me. I’m still getting the reading experience, after all, which is really the point. Now, I’m selling most of my library to Prospero’s in Tbilisi.

The ones I’ll likely never sell are the most expensive or irreplaceable ones, old volumes not yet digitized or those unlikely to be digitized soon, and a few first editions. Chiefly, these types belong to my library’s extensive Caucasus section, which I like to think might be one of the best personal collections on the subject in the country. These books were expensive or difficult to buy, and I hope that they can provide much useful information to other people as well.

Plus, a good friend who is a local library’s boss recently provided me with something I haven’t owned for more than 25 years: a library card, valid for the next 20 years (by the end of which, likely, we will be in another state altogether, one in which these terms and ideas have changed beyond recognition). This card means so much more than it used to. With it, I can now access physical books across Canada. In addition, worldwide via the internet, I have a portal to the electronic side of the modern library: magazines, e-books, newspapers, multimedia, video, audio and training materials. Wow. I’m good to go.

Like I said, the reading hasn’t stopped for me. Only its form has changed; the enjoyment and usefulness continue.

Tony Hanmer runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1000 members, at .

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

Tony Hanmer

20 August 2015 20:01