Isn’t it always the same? Whenever something new, especially if revolutionary and therefore potentially quite strange, comes along, the majority of us ignore it like an irritating fad too foolish to acknowledge. Others inquisitively take notice, read the blurb, nod wisely, but carry on as before. However a few pioneers totally embrace it without a seconds thought, making whatever is innovative the centre of their lives.
E-books are like that, wouldn’t you say?
A fervent bookworm friend of mine was given an e-reader for his birthday. He was so intimidated by it that he didn’t unwrap it for two weeks. Then he reluctantly toyed with it for another week, downloading a free book. Read a bit. Put it down. Read a couple of paper books – p-books. Picked it up again. Browsed awhile longer; finally switching it off with lingering uncertainty. And then…
He was off. He couldn’t get enough of it. ‘There’s something so compelling about it,’ he said. ‘The screen is the size of a paperback and weighs the same or even less. I have a dozen or more books on it and it’s still the same weight! I’m also trying to reduce my reliance on reading glasses, so I just increased the font size. It’s incredible!’
Suddenly he’s a happier, more enriched reader. He still reads p-books, especially hardbacks, for they have undeniable tactile significance: the touch of quality paper, the rich smell of print, the intriguing dust jacket, and its status on the shelf. But more and more, the ease of e-reading, especially for the traveller, is gaining ground. Where would overloaded commuters be without them? They are now part of our techno-gizmo generation.
For those who actually read books, of course.
Ah, but that last sardonic remark is being contradicted, for seldom-reading gadget kids are now reading books because that’s obviously the purpose of an e-reader, another must-have along with iphones and ipads of the iwant society.
So that’s book readers sorted. What about me as a book writer? I have written a WWII thriller, Island of Steel. Feedback from trusted test readers was 100% positive. One agent did nothing with it. A second was over the moon, but got too busy with existing clients. And you need an agent to get your manuscript to publishers. Who are themselves in turmoil over the current financial downturn and this dynamic e-book interloper giving them a slap in their old-fashioned typeface.
I can publish an e-book any time I want, and for free! Knowing I have this immediate outlet with no one controlling my career has released my creativity and boosted my confidence. There is just you, my global public, and I. And I can print low priced p-books for traditionalists. Myself included.
However, let’s take an objective view at e-books vs. p-books.
The paper book is totally self-contained and sustainable - once the trees that made it have been replaced. But it is easily ripped and creased by careless use. Spilled water bloats the paper and distorts it. Deadly fire destroys it in seconds. And Philistines mutilate its wisdom-filled pages by dog-earring. Yet, if mollycoddled, the same book is read and reread for years, acquiring a special charm, becoming a friend, as cosy and comforting as a pet on your lap.
But no plastic e-reader can seriously swell the heart with dignity and respect, can it? Will we see one stand proudly on a library shelf along with its peers? Silly notion, for each e-reader is a library in itself, and will soon store thousands of titles, old and new. All knowledge will be contained therein. But if you drop it, whoops, you’ve lost the lot. And if you forget to charge the little beast with its electrical nourishment, it becomes just another disposable gadget that doesn’t work, your invaluable books locked away inside this slim, sleek, and damned useless fancy case!
And can the precious metals clawed from the suffering earth required to build it be replaced? Not from this planet, unless technology changes - as it usual does, given time and incentive.
P-books can have important comments scribbled on the margins. But e-readers have a facility to make as many notes as words in the e-book itself. Elegant bookmarks enhance the p-book, although a button will permanently bookmark any e-book page. And not fall out. Another button will turn the page, and advanced ones allow you to sweep a finger to do it. P-books require external light to read them, while e-readers have a built-in light source so you can read in a power cut.
But in these fast-paced days of instant gratification, the major advantage of an ebook over a pbook is the immediate downloading of any title that takes your fancy - and at any time of the day or night. And at a fraction of the cost.
Now, you can’t really give an e-book for a present, can you? An e-reader, yes, but generally only one per person, until a new model becomes an essential substitute. But p-books are the mainstay of gift giving. When you have chosen one, what greater pleasure is there than writing a personal loving message inside? However no one can seriously scratch a meaningful dedication on an e-reader, can they?
Everything has it place and purpose, let’s admit. Books of fiction and nonfiction with just words are fine as e-books. And big p-books with glossy photos and foldout pages are perfect for coffee tables. Students need to be surrounded by reference books they can jump from book to book and back again. Alongside googling on an Internet-connected handheld device, of course.
Children’s books: no doubt, some large ipads will contain big colourful pictures and big print as current p-books do. But can you love Pooh Bear or the Gruffalo the same? (And please don’t use the television analogy when the kiddies are being settled to sleep). But anything is possible, I suppose. And very probable.
As for myself, I haven’t got an e-reader yet. I download e-books onto my laptop, and snuggle up on cold dark nights in a warm bed with it - all the while lovingly stroking one of my trusted old paper volumes as I read.
And fall asleep with e-dreams of an exciting if unsettling ever-inventive future.