The paper kind, I mean. Let us embrace the convenience of the e-reader!
Now, this is hardly my heartfelt position on the subject of digital books. Like most wordy people I love my tatty old paperbacks and don't like the idea of a hand-held reading unit, no matter how slimline. But there would be little point adding my voice to those already busily (and ironically) defending paper in on-line forums and blogs. What else is there to say? Books are the most highly-evolved form of carbon capture known to man, they are always beautiful (even when their spines fall off) and a house with no books is a sorry and cheerless place. We love 'em so hands off!
But the fact is, the digital book – which has actually been with us for years – has recently seen a huge surge in popularity. When I was a student we often talked about the future of the printed book, but few of us were seriously worried about it. In particular, the idea of e-paper screens was not taken seriously. Now, a decade and a half later, there's already a choice of e-reader, with the Kindle possibly coming to the UK soon and new players entering the market. The US already seems to have welcomed e-readers with open arms, with digital sales of the latest Dan Brown novel briefly rivalling the paper edition. And there's talk of colour screens in the near future.
I had a little play with a Sony e-reader recently but I wasn't exactly seduced by it. In any event, I'm not temperamentally predisposed to being in the first wave of anything (though I don't like a Luddite). But it seems to me that there's nothing to be gained from merely complaining about this revolution in the medium of reading, or from hoping that it goes away. And might it not be a good thing? To explore that possibility, allow me to speak with forked tongue and give the Devil's defence of digital books.
Paper books are unhygienic. They are wasteful. They take up a lot of space and do their authors no favours.
Why not buy a Kindle instead? It has a such a wonderfully creepy name. For sure, the screen is a putrid shade and the grey text sits ill upon it, but give the tech time; one day paper will seem dull by comparison, and those still reading off it duller still.
Think of the poor planet! Think of the carbon being pumped into the air by book distributors. Think of all those printing sweatshops in the Far East. Just thinking of the ink alone should make you paper-lovers feel tainted with guilt. And think of the swarms of sales reps driving all day to make sure that your over-lit streets stay stacked high with books. Millions of books.
What a shame about half of them will have to be pulped. Chemically.
Turn to the e-reader today and help change this. Yes, in the long run lots of people will lose their jobs, but since e-books are much cheaper, even the unemployed will be able read the latest literature.
And what of the poor authors, watching their incomes dwindle as readers blithely pass on their work or give it to charity shops? How must they feel knowing that one sale might be read by a dozen people, with no control and certainly no recompense? Second hand bookshops are choking writers! But with an e-reader file swapping can be hindered, so that everyone who wants to read a book has to pay for it. And because the costs are low they probably will, which all adds up to a fuller wallet for the people who actually write the stuff in the first place.
So let's go digital. After all, why wouldn't you want to see out-of-print books become available again, or the market in poetry and short stories be revitalised?
Why would you NOT want a library in your pocket?
You know it makes sense! Hisssss...
That's more than enough of that. It's sometimes fun being the Devil's advocate but it's never nice being his mouthpiece. But does he have a point?