Okay so I admit it – I’m finally contemplating getting an e-reader. This is embarrassing because I’ve insisted for the last few years that a) I would hate reading on one, and b) they were a temporary craze – the reading equivalent of clackers. My boss called me a Luddite recently because I claimed I would never buy one. I think I might still be right about my first point, and as to the second, well, I think they will be superseded in a few years by the next generation iPads or something similar that does “everything”, as teenagers do seem reluctant to adopt a dedicated device. But this week I’m having a few second thoughts.
An e-reader will never replace print books for me. Every book is individually designed – and the cover, paper quality, font and format are as much a part of the sensuality of the reading experience for me as the actual words. Pixels just don’t cut it when you’re curled up on the sofa with Wuthering Heights – it has to be my 1929 hardback edition, with its foxed paper and musty smell. My copy of The French Lieutenant’s Woman has to be exactly the copy I bought from W.H. Smith’s to study for my A-Level English exam. I admit to shamelessly choosing books for their covers. And I can’t resist the temptation of an antiquarian book fair, with the name of previous owners of editions inscribed carefully inside the cover; my copy of Shelley’s Poetical Works was presented to one Frank Birch as a 1st Class Prize at Easter 1880, by Superintendent Isaiah Farren, and later became the property of Doris Birch (his daughter?) in 1914. My copy of The Toynbee Convector would be meaningless without Ray Bradbury’s autograph on the flyleaf. And Benjamin Zephaniah wouldn’t have been able to sign my copy of Propa Propaganda if it was on an e-reader. Ultimately, nothing beats browsing the fiction section in a library or bookshop – online just isn’t the same.
But I’ve noticed a lot over the last few months that whenever I’m looking for a book on a specific topic on Amazon (usually non-fiction), I’ll find something that sounds perfect for my needs, to find that it’s only available in a Kindle edition. (At which point I shout a lot at my laptop and Amos – the cat -decides it’s safer to be elsewhere). And the pricing difference is sometimes remarkable. Also, as I meet more new writers, they’re often self-publishing books that sound right up my street, but only in e-format. It’s frustrating for laggards like me.
I can get behind the idea of an e-reader for three reasons – holidays (I read so much and so fast it’s a big issue when I’m packing); storage (my landing is a health and safety nightmare with its piles of books that I trip over every morning as I blearily make my way to the bathroom); and study (some textbooks are just ridiculously heavy – the irony of medical textbooks that give you a hernia). But in terms of reading for pleasure in everyday life, I’ve resisted all attempts to sway me.
Last year I gave in and bought a smart phone, something else I never thought I’d need. It’s great that I can now check my emails, get directions, mooch on Facebook and do lots of other distracting activity all the time. I can’t get the damn thing to make a phone call, but it’s the extras, right? I now find I can’t live without it, or leave it alone for more than a few minutes at a time. I’ve become one of those irritating people who are constantly communicating with the world at large through their phone when they should be paying attention to the people they’re actually with. But as the phone does give me massive headaches, I think I may have to go cold turkey for a bit.
No way am I going to abandon print for a piece of bland plastic. But over the next few weeks I am going to look at how I might use an e-reader for a small proportion of my reading. I can’t imagine I’ll be a total convert to the idea, but it might have a place. I don’t think the e-revolution is going to go into reverse any time yet, so this Luddite might have to learn to adapt and survive.
(Oh, and my friend Theresa just might win a bet!)