I got a Kindle a few Christmasses ago mainly because I don’t yet have the money or the space for the Beaty and the Beast style library I always dreamed of, and also because I have to give my Dad specific instructions of what to get me or I’ll end up with all kinds of random stuff. The ebook was a pretty inevitable development when you look at the rest of our modern technology, but what fascinates me is all the debate and near outrage that has sprung up around it. The Giles-from-Buffy types have made it very clear they don’t like what’s going on. As a child of the 90’s I’m fairly comfortable with the technology of the age (except at a recent pub quiz where you had to download an app to play along rather than use pen and paper…that was just weird) but this argument over paper vs pixels goes far deeper.
The first bad point you can make against the ebook is what it does to bookshops. In the cafe I used to work at I remember a woman complaining about her failing business as I guiltily read my kindle on my break. Bookshops are magical places, peaceful places and they joy is in the browsing. It would be a genuine tragedy if their numbers continued decreasing in the wake of the digital book, both for the people who run them and the rest of us. It has always been a small dream of mine to actually work in one, but that might have something to do with the comedy Black Books and the fact that they are never open that long and you don’t have to wash any dishes (I have had five different waitressing jobs). On the other had every time new technology takes over businesses suffer. The printing press ruined the party for Monks, and by party I mean solemn vows of silence and fasting, mass production ruined many trades and if it weren’t for hipsters the record shop would have gone extinct in the wake of the ipod (alas, poor Blockbuster, I knew him well Netflix). Is a sentimental attachment to the we’ve-always-done-it-this-way idea simply foolish? Is there any use in trying to preserve the humble bookshop? Are we just preventing the changing world? I would argue that bookshops and paper books don’t necessarily need to die out like so many vinyl shops. Like I said they’re still magical places and the beauty is in finding something you weren’t looking for. Kindles are good if you’re after a specific title, bookshops mean finding rare gems. Or even finding old dictionaries with 200 year old signatures on the first page, or rare prints that are beautifully worn. I think as long as there are romantics and hipsters there will always be bookshops. Or at least as long as girls like me are watching Beauty and the Beast.
One of the things that sometimes annoys me about the pro-book side of the debate is the occasional snobbery. When people badmouth the ebook they can sometimes give of the impression that they care about the concept of books rather than books themselves. If you’ve read War and Peace on an ebook you may as well not have read it at all. Its about the smell and the cover and the bookmark and how clever it makes you look. Surely the ultimate value of books is in the words. as long as I’m reading it who cares how right? So much anti technology debate involves the “dumbing down” argument, surely this cannot be used against the ebook? I’ve read books I otherwise wouldn’t have read because of cheap and easy download. Free download sometimes. I’m reading the author and that’s ultimately what counts. Like I said I don’t have the money or the space for a beautiful library with leather bound first prints. I would if I could. I already have a small ikea bookshelf fit to bursting. Ebooks allow for acces to work that students and other skint people might not always have had. The same philosophy behind Penguin Classics can be applied – good books made available. There can be a distinct impression that fiercely anti ebook people prefer to keep reading the preserve of those who have the time, the space and the money. Arguably it takes the pretentiousness out of being an avid reader. You could be reading Austen or Stephanie Meyer, who knows?! That being said the anonymity of the ebook means trashy awful hell books like Fifty Shades Of Grey get a zillion times more success than they deserve. I am partially on the side of the book snob.The paper book does have a beauty to it you just can’t get from its digital counterpart. My Mum handing me the most dog eared copy of “Eggs, Beans and Crumpets” by PG Wodehouse that had been passed through three generations and fell apart while I was reading it has no romantic equivalent in the digital world. But books shouldn’t just be about the romance of fireplaces and leather armchairs and herbal tea, they should be about the words first and foremost. What I have noticed too is the upsurge in re-released copies of classics with beautiful covers. Book designers now have to step up their game. They make excellent gifts and keepsakes, you can read the book digitally, fall in love with it and buy a gorgeous new print of it to treasure. Not to mention all the rainforests we’re saving.
As an aspiring writer I suppose it would be far nicer to see a hardback copy of your work with that nice new book smell the ages fabulously into that lovely vintage book smell, but like I said, the words are most important. However it would be nice to have the best of both worlds, the far reach and easy access of the digital book with the romance and the beauty of a paper copy. Ultimately whichever path leads us to become a nation that reads more is the one I choose.