Kindle, Sony, BeBook, Elonex, iRiver and now Kobo – the march of the e-reader is becoming louder and more intimidating, like Hitler’s stormtroopers goose stepping across the heart of Europe. Is the end of the printed word nigh? Or can I stem the tide by building a barricade with my extensive book collection?
Don’t get me wrong – I embrace technology as willingly as the next man or woman – I wouldn’t be blindly cobbling something together every few days for this blog if I didn’t. I love my iPod, laptop and mobile, and participate in several social networking sites.
And I can see the immense advantage of having an e-reader. I could carry my entire library around in my back pocket, available to dip into at any time and anywhere. Depending upon my mood, I could skip from a novel to travel diaries to poetry to sporting memoirs at a few touches of a screen.
Neither would I have to agonise for weeks before going on holiday, deciding which two books I should take, and then leaving at least one of them behind because I knew I was planning to buy several whilst I was away, placing potentially intolerable pressure on my wife’s miraculous capacity to bring our cases in within a milligram of our luggage allowance.
And think of the space the absence of so many books would open up in the house – decluttering at a stroke, though we might need to buy some new furniture! There’s the small matter too of the environmental damage that the continued production of paper based books could cause.
Then there’s the actual e-reader itself. Slim, lightweight, compact, long battery life, easy touch, low cost downloads, no glare screen, high contrast E ink display – the list of its attractive features goes on. What is there not to like about it?
And the biggest irony of possessing one? I would almost certainly read more, more often and more widely, an essential requirement for a writer. So what’s the problem?
Well, in defence of books it is the sensual and emotional elements that carry the day for me. Their look, feel, texture and, in the case of old books, smell are central to the reading experience. The turning of the page, the safe depositing of the bookmark, the sight of a well stocked bookcase (doubling as a nice piece of furniture) - all of these have a richness that cannot remotely be replicated by their upstart rival.
Many books that we possess may have started their life as gifts or be associated with an event or period in our lives that carries resonance. Downloads, even as presents, cannot invite the same emotional investment.
Books don’t break – they may get a little dog-eared but, again, that’s part of their charm. They don’t run out of batteries or risk short circuiting and losing their entire content. E-books, at least at the moment, can neither display illustrations nor adequately present large works of reference. And, as someone commented on another website, “how do you get an author to sign an e-book?”.
Bookshops, and even libraries, may be in decline but browsing their shelves remains, one of the most relaxing, and at the same time, stimulating of retail experiences, though I acknowledge that their purpose for many today might be to direct them to their next downloads rather than paper purchases.
P.G. Wodehouse claimed that “as life goes on, don’t you find that all you need is about two real friends, a regular supply of books, and a Peke (Pekinese)?” I’m not so sure about the third, but I don’t think he’s far wrong otherwise.
A final thought – perhaps the answer is compromise. Buy an e-reader purely to use on holidays where the baggage weight is an issue, but continue to read the printed word at all other times.
I fear the menacing thud of those jackboots is getting closer.