For the true book-lover, the introduction of e-books is a futile attempt at encouraging the disinterested to read and a jarring effort at modernising and commercialising books
Last year I wrote a passionate ode to the written word, where I waxed lyrical about libraries, paper and the smell of pages like a slightly crazed and/or obsessive book stalker. Miraculously, however, the article unearthed others like me; others who appreciated books in all their archaic, non-technological nature. Individuals who valued them for what they were, rather than just for the words inside. Others who even appreciated that books have a distinctive scent. I like to refer to them (or us) as book-smellers. Much like tree-huggers, book-smellers tend to be a little bit left of centre (you say weird, I say interesting), and are adamant on preserving the original, established form of reading.
In my spare time, and breaks from smelling books, I also like to be a technophobe. Ever a source of disappointment to my techno-loving friends and family, I take this role very seriously. One can imagine, therefore, how a book-loving technophobe would feel about the introduction of the e-book. ‘Sacrilege’ was the first thought I had.
However, in this age of surgeries done through pinpricks and phones that talk, it does not do to be prejudiced. Take a stance, and you’ll just get left behind. The Kindle rocketed to the top of the Amazon Christmas 2011 bestseller list, and to date £557 million worth of e-readers have been sold in the UK alone. Meanwhile, the number of traditional bookshops on UK streets has halved, and sales of paper books have slumped dramatically.
It’s a phenomenon. A tidal wave of futuristic know-how engulfing it all, one sad paperback classic at a time. And yet, I don’t get it. I just don’t quite understand the reasoning. I’ve heard the long lists of pros – more space, ease of use, the sheer number of books you can store in them (“thousands. I have thousands!”) – amongst others. Well yes, and that’s surely all very nice, but why would anybody want thousands of books in their bag? I’m a fast reader, but even I can’t get through the complete works of Shakespeare, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and my textbooks on my 30-minute train journey.
Then there’s the other argument: that it’s revolutionising reading and making it accessible. I assume at some point everybody forgot that there were once buildings called libraries, and they housed shelves upon shelves of these objects made of paper and bound up the spine with some artwork on the front. I believe they called them books. I believe they were free and accessible.
More to the point, I doubt an e-reader is going to convert legions of fans to the written word. Chances are, if you’re going to spend £80 plus on something which holds thousands of books, you’re going to do it for someone who has previously expressed interest in reading these thousands of books. As for accessibility – those children who, for financial, political, or cultural reasons, are those targeted by the government in their futile attempts to make them read, are hardly going to go out and spend that much on an e-reader which they then have to purchase books for just to bask in the glory of reading.
Added to that is the sheer impracticality of it. Granted it may need less storage, and battery life may be long, but the battery life on my paper books is approximately eternal. Beat that. And for the slightly clumsier amongst us, dropping my paperback down the stairs isn’t going to do it any harm. It’s indestructible.
I sometimes wonder if this is all adding to the increasingly lazy society that we have become. From cordless phones to drive-throughs to e-books, we’ve gone further and further towards becoming a society who must have everything at our convenience, within reach, which we can google and save and upload immediately. Convenience is a good thing, but sometimes there’s a very fine line between that and sheer indolence. Or between that and sacrilege.
Because my original thought still stands. I read about e-books, asked about them, picked one up and handled it, and yet I can’t seem to come around to it. It’s tarnished the very concept of reading.
For the avid reader, books were not just words. Books were memories. Books were gifts, and ages, and summers. Each one its own entity, picked up off a bookshelf, solid in your hands, representing a different time and place. I can remember the first time I read each one of my favourite books, and for those most often re-read the evidence is there in the barely attached cover and the folded over pages.
It’s sentimental and, some would say, pretentious, but it’s also a representation of what society is becoming. It’s a symbol of how everyone looks to this virtualisation and elecetrolisation of life as the solution to a whole spectrum of problems, or as solutions to things that we didn’t even think were problems before. When a children’s book becomes some sort of future-box, you begin to wonder just where technology is going to draw the line. And above all, from a petty and sentimental point of view, I wonder how much nostalgia is going to be marred as everything is crammed into sleek shiny gadgets, all-purpose and emotionless.
I look to my overflowing bookcase sometimes and wonder how much easier my life would be if I had it all in a 170g, 16 by 11 sleek piece of metallic craftsmanship. Then I remember that I don’t want craftsmanship. I want pages and inscriptions and folded corners and overflowing bookshelves. I want books.
Image from: http://www.geek.com/articles/gadgets/amazons-kindle-dx-officially-announced-2009056/
Reclaim Your Stage:
The Platform is a groundbreaking blog that provides current affairs and cultural commentary. Our pieces offer challenging opinions from a range of spectrums; that’s why we love hosting a platform for them.