Posts Tagged ‘Reading’

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’ve taken pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard, on two previous occasions on this blog to bemoan the demise of “high street” bookshops, both in principle and in my adopted city of San Francisco. In the first, I lamented the closure of the large branches of Border’s in Union Square, replaced now by a DSW shoe emporium, which, to add insult to injury, my wife loves, and 2nd and King opposite the ballpark. I consoled myself at the time with the knowledge that the Barnes and Noble branch in Fisherman’s Wharf was still carrying the flag, only to discover, shortly afterwards, that it too had made way for an expanded Cost Plus World Market.


But, in one sense, that has been a blessing as it has forced me to seek out San Francisco’s rich family of neighbourhood bookstores. As a result, I’m no longer sure that I miss the big chains as much as I did three years ago.

On my recent trip I had the pleasure of visiting a number of the independent stores – some new to me, others old friends – and discovered a very different story to the one that confronted me when the giants (no, not those) were collapsing around me a couple of years ago.  Phoenix Books on 24th Street  in Noe Valley was my local store where, on the first morning of my vacation, I picked up a discounted copy of Comeback Kings, a book on the Giants’ (yes, those) 2012 World Series victory.


A Sunday afternoon stroll down Valencia Street in the Mission unveiled the dual delights of Dog Eared Books and Borderlands Books, though the latter’s sole focus on science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery is not to my taste. But the painstakingly prepared coffee was! A happy birthday to Dog Eared Books, a partner of the aforementioned Phoenix Books, Badger Books (of which more below) and alley cat books, which turns 21 this very week! On the evidence of these two thriving outlets, the declaration on its website that ‘reports concerning “The Death of the Bookstore” have been greatly exaggerated’ rings resoundingly and joyfully true.


What struck me most about all of the bookstores I visited was the sheer number of people frequenting them, not just browsing the shelves but writing their own blogs and engaging in social media on their laptops, drinking every conceivable coffee permutation and interrogating the community noticeboards for apartment lettings or reiki classes and, in some instances, all three.


Badger Books on the corner of Cortland Avenue and Bennington Street in urbane Bernal Heights, displayed a particularly fine secondhand selection and boasted a lovely children’s section complete with multi-coloured stools.

Needless to say, City Lights in North Beach afforded me several opportunities to part with my dollars and the Book Passage in the Ferry Building, though relatively small, always contains an interesting and eclectic collection. Besides, there are few better places to sit and read than outside with a cup of Peet’s coffee from the adjoining concession.


Aardvark Books on Church Street near Market, where I bought a set of vintage San Francisco postcards at just fifteen cents each, The Booksmith (another regular haunt) and Browser Books on Fillmore between California and Sacramento are also fine places to stay awhile.

I may, to the purists, be about to join the dark side with my purchase of an Amazon Kindle, but I will never lose my love for plunging into bookstores (preferably those with adjoining cafes and a place to park the laptop), and divesting them of their stock. I expect that I only scratched the surface with San Francisco’s independent bookstores this time, but if the above branches are typical, their future is bright.

I dearly hope so.

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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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