I’ve yet to join the e-book revolution. This is primarily because I spend most of my days staring at screens of one form or another, meaning that the last thing I want to be doing when I’m trying to relax at the end of the day is to be looking at another one.
There’s also the fact that there’s nothing I like better than opening a honest-to-goodness real live book and feeling the crispness of the pages as I thumb through them, reading a sentence here and there, until I work out where I’d stopped the last time I’d put it down so I can start reading again. E-books just don’t have the same tactile stimulation and swiping left just doesn’t give me the same flutter as flicking through the pages of a new purchase, or an old friend, with a sense of anticipation building as I locate the first page and read the opening sentence.
This doesn’t mean I don’t see the advantage of e-books, or that I don’t appreciate how they’ve changed the world. They’ve led to a publishing revolution that has broken the strangle-hold that traditional publishers had on book production, and allowed people like me to become, in effect, their own publishing companies which connect direct with would-be readers. This is well-known, and widely recognised, but I think e-books are changing the world in other ways, too, and these are much more unexpected. What are these ways? Well, here’s six which give me the greatest pause for thought:
1. Book-burning has always been a rather pointless and, to me, sacrilegious, activity, but in the world of e-books, book burning is increasingly anachronistic. After all, who’s going to throw their brand new Kindle onto the pyre just because its got the latest volume to earn the ire of whichever self-appointed zealot has decided to get offended by it today? What will they do instead? Get together, with their placards and shout for mass deletings, urging each other on as they click OK to confirm that, yes, they really do want to remove it from their device? It just doesn’t quite have the same impact does it? Will they remember to also remove it from their cloud? If they don’t, it’ll simply re-appear on their electronic bookshelf each and every time their device is synced, haunting and taunting them no matter how hard they try to get rid of the offending article. Maybe that’s a good thing, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll eventually learn to love the written word and not to fear it.
2. With an e-book, no one knows what you’re reading. It used to be that you could sit on a train or in the park and judge the intellectuality of all those around you just by looking at the book clutched in their hands. Book covers are distinctive, and some you can spot from a mile away even without being able to read the title. My girlfriend and I play an occasional game of spotting the Harry Potter books on the shelves of people on property shows, and their unmistakable covers pop up so often, I’ve sometimes wondered whether the producers carry a set around with them so they can be taken out and used to fill in otherwise boring backgrounds. I’m not saying that such judgementalism is a good thing, but it is, nonetheless, rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
3. You can’t casually leave an e-book out on your coffee table, just to impress you friends with what you’re reading (or, more than likely, pretending to read). It used to be that you could get all sorts of social kudos by having just the right book laid out with just the right level of disregard to make it appear as though you’d only just put it down to answer the door and let them in. It might be A Brief History Of Time, or War And Peace, or even, to give a more recent example, Piketty’s Capital In The Twenty-First Century, depending on exactly who you wanted to impress, and why. In my student days, there was a certain type of man (not me, but I knew a few), who’d go out of their way to find out a girl’s favourite author, just so that they could have an appropriate book laid out when she came back to his place for coffee at the end of a date, hoping it would increase the chances of it leading to more. For better or worse, you just can’t do that with an e-book.
4. Gone are the days when you’d lend a friend a favourite book, only for it to come back spine broken, corners dog-eared where they’d turned them down instead of using a book mark or pages wrinkled from when they’d dropped it in the bath. Such offences signify a lack of respect for the property of others, and of the written word itself, and I wonder how many friendships were irrecoverably damaged by such careless treatment of borrowed books? This could never happen with an e-book, but then again, neither can lending a book in the first place, and that is a far greater shame. As I child, I remember the glorious feeling of an older, wiser someone pulling one of their precious tomes from their bookshelf, before thrusting it into my hands and saying ‘Read this.’. How many times did just the right book being lent at just the right time change how I viewed the world for the better? I don’t know, but I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it hadn’t happened when it did. This is, I think, one of the main reasons I cling to the printed word, keeping it within reach so I can do the same for the next generation, although by the time they’re old enough, they may well sneer at the quaint, old-fashioned idea of reading an actual book rather than its electronic counterpart. I hope not, but that does seem to be the way things are going.
5. Coming across other people’s notes in the margin in a second-hand book will no longer happen. I’m in two minds about this one. I’ve never been one for defacing books with scribbled thoughts alongside the author’s intended text, but I know the vicarious thrill of coming across the carefully penned note of another and feeling a deep connection across time and space with the unknown writer because it was exactly how I felt when reading those self-same words. Yes, you can add notes to e-books, highlight text and so on, but they aren’t passed on when you pass them on. In fact, the very concept of the second-hand book is alien to e-publications for they are all perfect first editions, every single one of them. They never age, they never fade, and they never get sold on so they can lead a second life in the hands of another.
6. E-books mean no more second-hand book shops. Yes, there will still be businesses selling books from the pre-electronic age (although most of those are probably as virtual as e-books these days, rather than consisting of bricks and mortar), but that’s not the type of shop I mean. Instead, I’m talking about ones selling battered paperbacks that have clearly seen better days, but that can be purchased for less than a buck, and yet still contain all the same power of the author’s carefully selected words as the did when new. They are places to loiter on rainy Sunday afternoons, or when, as a student, you’re avoiding lectures for classes you’re failing. They’re quirky places to take someone on a second date, or an alternative to the pub to meet would-be soul-mates in the first place. Such second-hand bookshops always have the same feel to them, no matter where you go in the world, and yet each has its own unique character, brought to it by the people who work there and the books that inhabit its shelves. I don’t know about you, but, for me, the world would be a much poorer place to live if they were to disappear forever, yet whether they can cling on in the age of the electronic books remains to be seen.
These are just few of the ways that electronic books are changing the world, and I’m sure there are many more, but these are the ones that make me stop and think.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and, I am ashamed to say, as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.