e-Read Therefore e-Am

on Sunday, July 25, 2010
Hark, the dark angels are singing, for the dawn of the Bookocalypse is upon us. Jeff Bezos, CEO of ShAmazon.com and arch nemesis to independent booksellers worldwide, hath just announced that e-books have outsold hardcover books for the first time in the evil empire's history. I guess it was bound to happen. Last month, when I flew to London and back, a quick stroll down the sticky carpet of the Thai Airways aisles was all it took to ram the reality down my gagging throat. I was veritably assailed by e-readers. Shamazon's Kindle clearly had the stranglehold, but iPads were holding their own (for those who actually used them to read rather than play Angry Birds for hours on end) and even the humble iPhone was making a fair showing.

So much for my theory on e-reading. Although not for me, I theoretically have no problem with the idea of those more technologically minded reading from some call-it-what-you-will, new-fangled computer screen. But I had assumed that it could never affect the sales of the hardcover. See, the way I saw it, e-readers would separate those who love books as objects from those who see them as functional vehicles for the delivery of entertainment. In other words, while the airport novel was in real danger, the beautiful hardcover was safe as houses (before the subprime crisis, that is). Turns out I was mistaken. People do care about their hip pocket when it comes to books. Apparently he or she who dies with the biggest library no longer wins.

Oh well, as Daffy Duck once said, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I have long pontificated about the evils of e-reading but, like many other things about which I loudly voice my opinion (like split infinitives, for instance), I really had nothing to go on. Sure, the idea of reading from a piece of machinery boiled my blood but really, there had to be something to it. How could a school (to be read in the same collective manner as sardines) of Thai Airways passengers be wrong? Thankfully, my brother got a Kindle for his birthday in February so I didn't have to buy one for myself, nor did I have to embarrass myself by putting a call out on some social networking site. I should point out that, in the five months since he got it, my brother hasn't actually used his Kindle. That ought to have spoken volumes. When I asked if I could borrow it he said I could keep it for as long as I needed. Another light bulb. And when I did take it to my place, the battery was totally dead. You get my point.

After a good few hours charging, I fired the little white tablet up and downloaded The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I had always meant to read it and wanted a short book in case the Kindle experience was as horrible as I had anticipated. Two birds, one clunky white stone. I started to read... I felt dirty, like I was cheating on the most beautiful girl in the world with a second-hand blow-up doll. Then, and maybe it was habituation, the feeling sort of subsided. I was getting into it. The Kindle was pretty easy to read. That magic ink technology is kind of okay. I'm sitting on the fence here, but having now read a book on the thing, I'm willing to say it isn't total junk. Of course, I'm not going to get in the habit of reading from it, but at least I won't pathologically hate anyone I see using one anymore. Plus, I get that it can be handy when travelling, rather than lugging around a backpack full of hardcovers plus an extra suitcase for the ones that don't fit in the backpack.

A piece of fancy plastic or metal and glass won't ever replace the tactile warmth of paper and board, but it has its place. Let's just hope those e-book outlets don't keep using it as an excuse to bend authors over barrels.


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