So, after many years of successfully filling our house, and my parents’, with lovely, beautiful REAL books my husband got very excited about the new Kindle, placed his pre-order and has been carrying it around with him everywhere, like a new baby, ever since it arrived. I am a Luddite when it comes to books, because I like to have a real, made out of paper, book in my hands – not a machine – and so far I have been extremely anti-ebooks. I think that my aversion is at least partially due to my former career – that of librarian. I’m no technophobe – in the library that I worked in I was in charge of all the electronic resources, the ejournals as well as the intranet and I did relatively little with the many beautiful leather-bound books that surrounded me day to day. However, I don’t think anyone falls into librarianship without having a passion (obsession) for books.
I have, of course, sneaked a few goes on the Kindle. Know thy enemy and all that. There is something a little bit exciting about thinking ‘oh, I’d like to read that book’ and then within seconds having a copy right there in front of you. And that we can do this *anywhere* thanks to the 3G access, well, even better. I quite like the dictionary that means any time I get stuck on a big word I can look it up there and then, without having to find my real dictionary or admit ignorance to my husband and enlist his help. It’s nice to be able to search the text too, so if there’s a bit of something I remember reading somewhere, sometime, I can find it much more easily than in a real book.
But, notice how I keep referring to real books, as if ebooks are just some faking interloper. There still is, for me, something lacking in the words on the screen. I approach the text differently on a screen than if it were on a page. My husband loves that the Kindle has no smell – I think he was worried about it smelling new or plastic – but I miss that book smell, be it the fresh new pages of a crisp hardback, or the dog-eared, well-read, sometimes disturbingly stinky smell of a library book. I miss the feel of a book in my hands. I read differently on a Kindle – there isn’t so much text on the screen as on a page and so my eyes don’t run their usual scan from top to bottom, or across the two pages you can see in an open book, and that seems to change the reading experience for me.
I miss bookmarks. I know, the Kindle remembers where you were last and you can add notes where you need to, but there’s something about placing a marker into a book (whether it’s a genuine marker or as usually happens in my house whatever hairband, receipt, envelope or sock I have to hand) and then being able to see how far into the book you are. I find it hard to judge the length of a book on a Kindle, and that little measure along the bottom means nothing to me.
I miss book covers too. I tried mooching the amazon ebook store and unless you know what you’re looking for it is really no fun whatsoever. I know, I know, you should never judge a book by it’s cover but I do, quite a lot. Covers tell me a lot about a book, about what the publishers want me to think, which other authors they think I should picture in my head when I see a cover, how smart I should feel when reading it, whether it instantly jumps into my hands or whether I turn immediately away, all sorts of nonsense like that. Without a pretty cover to coo over, and no back blurb to ignore, the only things to go on are the title and the text. The free samples are usually the first chapter it seems, so you’d better hope the book starts well and grabs your attention right from the first word. I know plenty of good books that take a while to get going, so this seems unfair on them.
I have to admit that I haven’t yet read a whole book on the Kindle (my husband has read a couple already, including one that he read both in hard copy and on the Kindle at the same time so that he could do his own private compare and contrast exercise. Geek.) What I did was to hunt out ‘Anne of Green Gables’ which is one of my all time favourite books. I have read and re-read this book so many times that opening it feels so comforting, so reassuring, and the words come as naturally as breathing. So, I tried the ebook. I didn’t like it. I missed my old raggedy copy of the book. The same beautiful words didn’t feel warm somehow. I wanted to be able to ruffle through the pages to find my favourite bits. It felt wrong.
I think if I were still commuting into London every day I would almost definitely have bought myself a Kindle. My journey time was an hour and a half each way, and being a quick reader meant I often travelled with at least 2 books in my bag. How lovely it would have been to have only had to carry the Kindle and thus have had hundreds and hundreds of books at my fingertips. And for holidays too, I’d love such a small package containing a multitude of books to take wherever we go. It would’ve come in handy when I travelled to Canada actually and I filled my rucksack with five books to take on the way and then bought another bagful to bring back home. I can see all the pros, and I really, really want to love it. But I don’t.
I think a real book, for me, is something more than just a functional leisure device. It’s not just that I read books to enjoy the story that’s written within their pages – it’s that I fall in love with the whole product. The books that I own are imbued with memories of where I bought them, where I read them, what was happening in my life at the time, how I marked the pages, who I’ve loaned the book to. I’ve spent my whole life reading and loving books, and so far ebooks have done nothing special enough to win me over. I will, if I get the chance, find myself a new ebook to read – one that I have no previous attachment to – so that I can see what it’s like to read a new ebook and see whether I get so caught up in the story that I forget all about the buttons and the lack of pages to turn. But for now it’s still my towering book pile that I want to read, and it doesn’t seem likely that I will be reducing the number of bookshelves required at home just yet.