Posts Tagged ‘e-readers’

My wife observed the other day that she hadn’t seen me reading my Kindle lately. I’ll confess that I hadn’t realised this was the case, especially as I had been steadily adding books to it over recent weeks.

But she was right – I hadn’t sat down and read anything for any appreciable length of time since Christmas.

And that set me thinking.

What was the point, after years of agonising over the propriety of buying one in the first place, of not taking advantage of the opportunity it gave to read more widely and often? All I was doing was filling yet another bookcase – albeit a digital one – with more books I was unlikely to read (although I already owned some of them in print form).

And then I remembered that one of the prime motives for finally succumbing to the evil lure of the e-reader at all was to enable me to take all the books I “needed” on vacation without compromising my luggage allowance.

I had already been struggling with the dilemma of which guide to San Francisco I would take on our upcoming trip to the area, as well as which book I would take for leisure reading (not that I ever get beyond the first couple of chapters when I’m away, especially since now I devoted most “downtime” to my blog and other social networking).

So how might I resurrect the ailing appliance?

Well, it wasn’t much to look at for a start. The austere black cover I had bought for it, while practical and inexpensive, made it blend into the background in the office (a.k.a. the front bedroom). I’d effectively forgotten about it, except when I was browsing on Amazon.

I needed, therefore, to make it look as appealing as so many of the books I would be obliged to leave at home.

The dilemma was solved, however, by the simple addition of the last Grateful Dead sticker I had bought on Haight Street last June – cool, distinctive, colourful and exactly the right fit.


Immediately, I wanted to delve inside and re-acquaint myself with my recent purchases.

A case of definitely judging an e-book by its cover.

Yes, the Complete Works of Shakespeare and the novels of Thomas Hardy were there as they should be. But, more importantly, the 2014 edition of San Francisco Not for Tourists and Gary Kamiya’s wonderful Cool Grey City of Love, and not forgetting Armistead Maupin’s latest and last Tales of the City novel, The Days of Anna Madrigal, were there waiting for me too.

So I am actually “good to go” (note how I am already slipping into the Californian vernacular) after all, although I hadn’t realised it.

An added bonus is that I had also loaded a couple of books that my wife might wish to read in the unlikely event that she should finish the supersized novel that she had already elected to weigh her hand luggage down with on the flight.


So I’m now back into the groove of turning to my Grateful Dead infused e-reader when I have only a few minutes to spare – preparing the evening meal, sitting on a bus and even – no I won’t mention it – conducting business in the smallest room in the house (much more manageable than the Sunday Express my father used to disappear there with).

And with declining eyesight, how great to be able to increase the font size of what I am reading!

Now, where did I put the charger?

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The fateful day has arrived. I have just taken custody of my first Amazon Kindle, a birthday present from my wife.  

But why? After all, I have expressed my love for books here on a number of occasions, and stated my distaste for a hugely popular but soulless phenomenon that has blasted many of my favourite bookstores into oblivion. 

But I have also acknowledged that the time would come when I would not be able to resist the inexorable march of the e-reader, in fact when I would only be “cutting off my nose to spite my face” by rejecting its blandishments. Trying to stem the tide of history didn’t work for Canute and it is not going to work for me either. 

But this does not mean the beginning of the end of my reading the traditional paper-based books. I’ve only just published one myself – hardback, dust cover, high quality paper – the works.

No – far from it.

I’m not going to suddenly ditch my entire book collection at a stroke. Indeed, neither my buying nor selling strategy should change, other than that I will purchase an e-book where the print version does not exist. Several books have come on the market recently that I would like, but are only available in electronic form. I have no alternative, therefore, but to acquire the means of reading them.

There is an added motivation in that, in this same spirit of “if you can’t beat them……”, I am contemplating self-publishing my next book as an e-book. So I need to join in the game sooner rather than later.

Now, rather than spending weeks beforehand deciding which book(s) to take on holiday, I will be able to download the two or three in contention, affording me the added advantages of not only of reducing the weight of my cabin luggage on the outward flight, but creating space for the addition of “proper” books for the return.

So – Shakespeare, Dickens, Hardy, Maupin, Bryson and company – rest easy, you will continue to have a cherished place on the bookshelves, or wherever I can find room for you in the house. You are no more likely to be destined for charity shops and boot fairs tomorrow than you were yesterday. 

And I fully expect that the arrival of my e-reader will encourage me to read much more than, shamefully, I have been able, or rather chosen, to do heretofore.

No more agonising for hours beforehand over which books to take with me to the local coffee shop or on a train journey.

And no more risk of developing back problems carrying too many bulky books around with me just in case I changed my mind as to which of them I wanted to read in transit.

If further evidence were needed of the reluctance with which I’ve taken this momentous step, I have, or rather my wife has, only purchased the basic model – bells and whistles are conspicuous by their absence.

But I might as well buy a fancy leather cover while I’m at it.

Oh……and my first download?

101 Free Things To Do In San Francisco by Daniel Davidson.

Now there’s a surprise.

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I recently accompanied my elderly father to the optometrist in the local high street for his overdue eye test.  On the wall of the waiting area was a sign proclaiming “Do not use mobile phones”  – not “We ask our customers to kindly refrain from using mobile phones” but “Do not use mobile phones”.  The message was unequivocal – they were, understandably, not permitted in an area that contained highly sensitive equipment.

I suspect you know what’s coming next – yes, half of the people congregating outside the consulting rooms were in conversation on their handheld devices, most saying nothing more illuminating than that they were “at the optician’s”. A young man sitting next to me loudly responded to a call whilst a nurse tried to explain her treatment to the woman sat on the other side of him. It never occurred to him to move away or – heaven forbid – turn off his phone.

Another sign declared “No food or drink”, which was being observed perfectly, other than by small children in buggies (strollers) who ought to have constituted an exception anyway. How ironic that we are prepared to forego the staff of life for an hour or two, but cannot survive without the comfort of that little piece of plastic and lead for just a few minutes.

But before my momentary outrage triggers a rant about the decline of respect and civility, I need to relay another shocking discovery – all the while I had muttered about, and frowned at, the widespread flouting of a quite explicit and rational instruction, I had been checking my e mails and Twitter timeline on my own phone. Now I don’t know whether, aside from the obvious distraction and discourtesy, surfing is less forgivable than speaking (I suspect the radiological damage is the same), but I do acknowledge the hypocrisy of my stance.

What it does illustrate, however, is the utter dependence we place upon the simultaneously liberating and tyrannous grip – literally – of our smartphones. androids and tablets. I tend to use my ageing Nokia N93 primarily for texting and surfing and have never understood the fascination with playing games on computers of any size or specification.  

But I doubt that I could live without it. When I commuted to work it enabled me to let my wife know if my train was running late, ensuring that dinner would still be edible when I finally made it home.  It allows me to track the progress of my favourite sports teams when I am out and about.  And it prevents me from missing an important meeting when my usually reliable memory lets me down.

I like to think that I don’t abuse the privilege of having one.  I will remove myself from a crowded public space to return a call, and, even then, talk almost too quietly (natural English reserve meets respect here).  Nor do I walk the streets with it cupped in the palm of my hand, as if expecting at any moment a call from Barack Obama asking for my views on the Syrian crisis, or a text from Bob Dylan inviting me to open for him on his next tour.   

Sadly, however, too many of my fellow citizens appear to believe that ownership of any sort of handheld electronic device entitles them to declaim loudly and tediously on public transport and in restaurants, and go about their business with their faces buried in the contraptions, oblivious to the world around them, sometimes causing danger to themselves and others.

I am getting perilously close to ranting again, so here’s a new game for you.  Next time you see someone heading towards you on the street, head bowed, nose caressing the screen display on their iPhone, iPad2 or e-reader, rather than leap out of their way into oncoming traffic or scrape your back against a wall, just hold your ground and shout “boo!” as they career into you. It’ll frighten the hell out of them! And sometimes it even elicits an apology!

But one note of caution – choose your target carefully.  It’s not advisable to select someone who is bigger or meaner looking than yourself.

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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.

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