I like books. I like to buy books, read them, line them up on my book case, stand back and gaze at them as if they’re trophies. I’m kind of a twat like that. I also own and frequently use a Kindle and believe that it is possible to enjoy both, that eBooks aren’t a replacement for real books, just a different option.
When you ask people their opinions regarding e-readers vs. real books you find that there is a small section of society that can only be described as the Complete Collection of Literary Dickheads. They will talk about printed novels in an over-romanticised way and for some reason tend to focus on the physical act of turning the pages, the smell of books and how these can’t be replicated by digital versions. That may be true, but turning the pages of a novel isn’t an integral part of the story, it’s just something that you have to do. No one watches Citizen Kane and says the best part was turning on the DVD player. And if your favourite thing about reading books is the smell, you need to read some better books.
I would never replace all my physical books with digital versions, and I still visit bookshops, but I can’t deny that the Kindle has proved itself to be very useful, especially when it comes to public transport. I have been working my way through the A Song of Ice and Fire series, all of which are big books, and when you’re standing on the Tube they get uncomfortable to hold after a while. They’re also pretty difficult to heft around. The second in the series was lent to me by a friend (Hi Ben!) and after a few weeks of regularly cramming it into my bag I’d pretty much destroyed it. Having learnt that I cannot be trusted with other people’s personal possessions, he lent me the next one in digital format, which I got through a lot quicker due to the fact that I can pretty much take my Kindle anywhere as it doesn’t have such a restrictive size. It’s because of the sheer convenience of the e-reader that I’m reading more now than I ever have, and surely that’s a good thing?
Of course, they aren’t completely free of problems. There have been numerous incidents of digital books being deleted from people’s Kindles by Amazon due to copyright issues. One such book was, ironically, George Orwell’s 1984. This did momentarily worry me because of the issues surrounding censorship and whether or not Amazon could potentially gain control over society by deciding what we can and can’t read. Then I realised that if Amazon did want control society they would probably do it through blackmail. Think about it, they have your bank details and they know what you’ve searched for.
But working on the assumption that Amazon isn’t scheming to become an evil overlord, Kindles still have other downsides: the battery lasts a long time but does have to be recharged eventually and it’s a lot harder to impress people with your chosen reading material as you can’t subtly flash the front cover to anyone that might be watching. This is bad news for anyone reading Finnegans Wake and hating every second of it.
There will always be people who get a bit precious about books, the novelist Jonathan Franzen recently implied that e-readers aren’t for ‘serious readers,’ as if reading a printed book is worth more than reading a digital book, even if the words are exactly the same. I appreciate that some people just aren’t interested in Kindles, but there’s no reason to turn the whole concept of reading into some kind of elite club of which e-reader users will never be a member. I think that if you’re reading a book you love, it doesn’t matter if you’re reading it from a page or a screen, it’s still the same book. In the words of another novelist, John Green ‘I don’t care how you read, I care whether you read.’