I have just watched a programme presented by Alan Yentob about e-books and their impact on reading and the future of ‘real’ books. As usual with such programmes, lots of pseudo intellectuals were interviewed along with some writers and publishers, researchers and librarians. Not one ordinary book reading member of the public.
We were treated to a brief history of printing, an idea in its time so revolutionary it could be compared to the changes that are happening in publishing today.
We were shown books in the Bodleian Library and made to feel that all books held the mystique of those ancient texts which 99.9% of the world will never see (that is not a true mathematical figure, by the way, just my way of saying most of the people in the world).
We were introduced to a writer who works in a log cabin in the back of beyond with no internet or mobile phone who believed such things were evil distractions that made it impossible for people to think for themselves or maintain a train of thought.
There were also some people who believed e-books were good and I agree with them.
I have lots of books in my home, most of which I have owned for years and have never got round to reading. They sit on shelves and collect dust. They are bulky and cumbersome. I’m not intoxicated by the smell of them. If I sniffed them I would end up sneezing. I don’t need to feel the paper between my fingers. What I am interested in is the stories they tell. It doesn’t matter to me whether I read them on screen on my laptop, on a reader or on paper.
Not all e-books are great masterpieces – but then not all printed books are. I have read some and thought ‘how on earth did this get published?’ I have read some and thought ‘I want to read that again.’ There are thousands of new books published very year; tens of thousands new e-books. Publishing is a business and a gamble. Books are not some kind of sacrosanct commodity that has to be worshipped. They are a product like everything else that is sold. Once in a while something really great or profound will emerge, but not often.
The important thing about e-books is that they are giving everyone a chance to read. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, if you can get on-line you can download a book. I’m not sure, yet, about the dominance of one particular provider over another, but you can search for and find lots of books. Not all. Some are still not published as e-books and I know hoards of independent writers who will moan if every book published also has an e-version. But why not? I would love to have some of my favourite authors on my e-reader – at the right price, or course. I object to paying paperback prices for something that does not have to be printed, stored, distributed and sold over the counter.
Reading a book in electronic form does not stop the reader thinking about the content. It does not take the magic away. You are still reading words that were the thoughts and imagination of the author. You can still get lost in the story, read for longer than you intended, curse that the journey has ended too quickly and you have to close the book.
I have a new library in my life and I carry it around with me wherever I go. Is that a bad thing? I have The Iliad, The Three Musketeers, Alice in Wonderland, nearly every book written by Dickens (can you imagine carrying that lot around in your handbag) along with books by C S Lewis which I read as a teenager and are no longer in print, as well as so many other classics and books by new writers, Brendan Gisby, Gerry McCulloch, Teresa Geering, Simon Swift and a long list of others.
I can remember the last printed book I bought and it was within the last twelve months. I haven’t read it yet. I’m not saying it was the LAST printed book I will ever buy, I might still buy another, but most of my recent purchases have been e-books and I love them, one and all.