I’ve just watched this week’s BBC Click, which focused on the dilemma that libraries are facing as e-books finally start to take a proper hold on the publishing industry, and found myself asking the same question I often have: is it time to buy myself an e-book reader?
I love gadgets, technology, the Internet. As the World Wide Web has brought more convenience to my life, I’ve accepted it willingly. My job means that I don’t want to waste whatever time I get off trawling around the shops for the latest movies and CDs, and lazy days spent with the Sunday Times disappeared the day my first child was born.
Today, I use LoveFilm and the Sony PlayStation Store (both on my PlayStation 3) to watch the latest movie releases, my mobile phone is full of all my favourite music, I keep in touch with my friends and colleagues via the myriad social networks available to me, and – thanks to streaming music services such as Spotify – my pub’s audio system is always up-to-date with the latest chart toppers.
My browser home page is Google News, meaning I’m always in-the-know with what is happening around the world, streaming TV services like iPlayer and 4oD mean I can always catch up with television programmes, and blogging sites such as this one and the one offered to me by trade magazine The Publican mean I can share my thoughts and vent my frustration at a moment’s whim.
But when it comes to reading a good book, I still prefer to pick up a weighty hardback or bendable paperback.
The idea of moving my personal library to an electronic device in the same way I have done with music and movies is anathema to me. I’ve got a collection approaching 2000 books, either scattered around the bedroom floor, still tucked away in boxes from the last house move, or proudly displayed on book shelves. I have an almost emotional attachment to the books around me and I’ll happily pick them up, flick through them and put them back down again, bristling with memories of the tale within.
My bedside book at the moment is The Man Who Never Was, by Ewan Montagu, a fascinating true life story about a World War II counterintelligence operation. Before that I read Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King and every now and then I pick up Po Bronson’s What Should I Do With My Life to remind me why I made the career choices I did.
I’ve got a collection of fact and fiction novels from a huge variety of authors, and this weekend’s events in Japan have reminded me that I need to dig out one of my copies of Portent by James Herbert and give it another read.
The idea of binning all these books and putting them on to a Kindle horrifies me. And yet my desire to keep up with the latest electronic gadgets means I’m still drawn to getting hold of one, just so that I can say I have one.
But here’s the thing: while I agree with the arguments that nobody cares if you get Kindle-damaging sand or sea water on to an airport-purchased Mills & Boon paperback, it’s not really this that puts me off buying one.
Years ago, visiting a friend’s house for dinner meant that you could spend an age browsing their CD and LP collections and building up an image of their personality by the music that they chose to listen to, but many of us have secret tastes in music we’d like to keep to ourselves. The advent of the iPod meant that I could continue to harbor my Shakin’ Stevens or Tiffany fetishes whilst mowing the lawn, while selling off the vinyl copies on eBay so that my friends didn’t know I had them.
In contrast, it doesn’t matter what books are on your book shelf, friends don’t criticise you in the way they do your music choice. Harrold Robbins novels sit comfortably alongside Dean Koontz on my book shelf and nobody bats an eyelid at the pairing of The Sexual Life of Catherine M. alongside Louise Bagshawe’s Tuesday’s Child. People pick these novels up, flick appraisingly through them, and put them back again.
If you were to visit a friend’s house one evening, would you be comfortable asking your host if you could have a flick through their Kindle while they make you a coffee? It seems as intrusive as asking a lady if you can have a search through their handbag…
Just as LPs and CDs have vanished from our shelves so, slowly, are DVDs. The only things we have left to tell people who we are are our books, and if the Kindle steals those too it worries me that it’ll leave a much bigger void than we realise.
(But it’s my birthday next month, and if anybody fancies buying me a Kindle I won’t say no…)
Do you still read real books or use an e-reader? Vote below…
If you want to see this week’s BBC Click on iPlayer, simply visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006m9ry