A Little More Than Kin...

'So what do you want for Christmas?' I asked last year, expecting the usual muttered prevarications.
'A Kindle,' he replied, as quick as you like.
'Are you sure?'
'Yes. I've researched it.'

So there it was. Another dedicated reader opting into the cyber-zone. Only thing is, this was my father doing the opting. And he's eighty-four years old.

Those clever Amazonian geeks came up with a Cunning Plan when they named the Kindle. The word is redolent with the homespun, the hand made. I'm sure it's no coincidence that it rhymes with spindle, conjuring up visions of calm, Vermeer women spinning cloth, or weatherbeaten peasants gathering kindling for a welcoming fire. The word kind implies a certain benevolence, along with the diminution of kin. This little gadget will be good to your eyes, gentle on your pocket and will feel like part of the family. The adverts show dogs licking them, for heaven's sake.

My father loves his new Kindle. It's light and portable. He can adjust the font size, slip it into a pocket, browse and download from Amazon, try out books for free.

'Don't you miss having a real book to hold? Turning the pages? The smell of paper?'
Apparently not.

I can see his point. And I accept that this is the way publishing's heading. Already, only 60% or so of books are 'real', so in a relatively short time, books as we've known them will be a rarity. I foresee a time when clandestine meetings will be held at which participants handle, sniff and read Real Books. With a motto such as Hug A Hardback. Like the Campaign for Real Ale, and just as intoxicating. Though beards and sandals won't be mandatory.

Call me a Luddite, but I will be sad at the passing of the traditional book. Not just because of the fifty-odd years I've spent collecting, reading and, latterly, writing them, but for the following reasons:

- Covers
A cover is the face of a book. The thing that attracts you to it, before you've had a chance to browse inside. It's what makes a book an individual, a character, marks it out from the rest. Real Books have covers with images and colours and, in the case of hardbacks, more colour lurking beneath the jacket like secret underwear. Remember Mazo de la Roche's Jalna series, with their odd, peachy covers? And the Swallows and Amazons series (sludge green)?

- Weight and size. The big, solid, bruiser of a hardback, willing and able to sit in your bookshelf for decades. The jam-it-in-your-pocket-and-to-hell-with-the-consequences paperback. How many Kindles do you see propping up recalcitrant table-legs?

- Accessories. I've a huge collection of bookmarks, so useful for showing me just how far I've got in a book, and how much there is to go. And remember bookplates? Those little sticky labels, often with gorgeous designs, that you could stick in the front of your book - your book - and carefully inscribe with your name, marking it out as your own.

- Sensuality. I love the feel of pristine books on shelves, all innocent and virginal and untouched. I love the feel of a page - that slightly rough, slightly- reluctant-to-open feel. And (shut your eyes here, all purists) I love to mark my books. My non-fiction titles are full of underlinings and scribbled notes. I like old, well-thumbed books, the corners of their pages bent, frayed with use, stained with coffee and chocolate and who-knows-what. The way they fall open to favourite passages. There's something friendly about a Real Book. Something comforting.

Real Books appeal to brain and body, synapses and senses. A Real Book is a miniature world of the imagination, gained through a physical portal. Like the Narnian wardrobe with its musty coats and creaking doors, a Real Book keeps us, the readers, anchored in the world, even as it encourages our imaginations to fly.

I would go further. Every Real Book is a potential relationship, with a body you can touch, stroke, smell and hold. Anything less is akin (geddit?) to a vibrator.

Cyber-sex is all very well at a pinch, but when it comes to reading, I'd rather have The Real Thing.


Helen Black said...

I agree with you that certain books are better off in paper form and I believe there will always be a market.
Children's picture books, cookery books, text books etc will all survive I think.

However, the vast majority of books for sale and read are paperback fiction novels. People read em once then recycle or desperately find somewhere to store. Reading devices are ideal for this type of book, I think.
HB x

MorningAJ said...

Those clever Amazonian types came up with a REALLY clever idea - because once you have the Kindle you can only buy e-books from Amazon. Their file type is unique.

Sony, on the other hand, will let you read any kind of e-publication (it has a preference but you can use anything but the Amazon version)

I bought Sony - and I'd recommend anyone else who's thinking of buying an e-reader to do the same.

Debs Riccio said...

Oh how true, Susie, and don't forget the positively amazing SMELL of a freshly-opened book - there's no WAY I'm going e. Great post!

Caroline Green said...

I really liked what you said about the evocative nature of the word 'Kindle' Very clever...I'd never thought about this. For me, it's not about 'either/or' though. In theory I'd like a Kindle for holidays, to save carrying ten books in my suitcase. But so far it hasn't won me over...looking at friends' ones, I find the page doesn't refresh fast enough for me. But I watch this technology with great interest...

Bethany said...

I'm with you - though I can't stomach the idea of a Kindle - it just seems...so unnatural to me. My mum is in love with the idea, so I think it will be her present at Christmas. But, as an armed forces wife, she moves around a lot, and in Germany doesn't have as easy access to books.

Myself? I can't understand it. It's a cute gadget, and if someone bought me one then I wouldn't complain. But... I'll be the host of all those Real Book campaigns. Feel free to join in!

Keith Havers said...

I'm an electronics engineer and in the nineteen eighties, when Mr Sinclair was turning everybody into a computer geek, we were supposed to be heading for the paperless office. Well, it never happened. There is still as much paper documentation generated by the average office to take a sizeable chunk out of the Amazon rainforest. (See the link there?).
Photography didn't make artists obsolete and audio recordings haven't put a stop to live concerts.
Don't write off the paperback just yet.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, all, for your comments. Dream it, then do it - I do so hope you're right. Of course, Kindles are amazing things - just as computers and televisions are. And to use them in tandem with books makes sense. But please, please Save Our Books too!

DT said...

I totally agree with you about the emotional connection to a paperback. I have books that travelled with me and now sit upon my shelf as faithful companions, witnesses to my triumphs and failures. The book that fell in the bath and I considered it a mercy killing (no clues...), the book my flatmate's cat scratched to pieces when it was making a den before having kittens, the comfort reading paper friends who've watched me grow and change - you can't download any of that!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

LOL, Derek - re. the mercy killing!

Lindsay said...

Don't forget that wonderful collective noun - a kindle of kittens. Not sure how I feel about the book Kindle - don't like the idea for all the reasons you give, but I have a feeling one day I'll have one or some other version!