I’ve used other ereaders too: from Sony, from B&N and, of course, from Amazon. I like them all. I understand their myriad benefits. I don’t fear change, or resist technology. I haven’t bought a physical newspaper for years. The notion of combining two of my favourite things – books and gadgets – is almost irresistable. Ereaders are great most of the time. “Most” being the operative word, because there are still too many occasions when a hard copy wins the toss. And these are the reasons my ereader finds itself, quite literally, on the shelf.
I can usually get a paperback for less than its digital counterpart. When a friend recommended Sarah Winman’s When God was a Rabbit recently, I bought the paperback for (admittedly, a bargain) £2.81, including delivery, through Amazon; the Kindle edition is £5.99, more than double the price. I won’t even get a nice volume to cram into my beautifully overstocked bookcases when I’ve read it. (Although I draw the line at people who cite the physicality of books as a reason not to get an ereader, I do have a nostalgic fondness for my personal library, if only because it looks nice.)
An aircraft journey is the longest unbroken stint of reading I get. I don’t like watching films on planes – they’re often edited and always spoiled by cabin whine and interruptions from the captain. I don’t mind not being allowed to listen to music during take-off and landing (well, not much) but I draw the line at being told I can’t read. Until the airline industry admits a Kindle isn’t going to make any difference to flight safety, that – for me – is a dealbreaker.
Yes, it sounds childish, but a book is the best way to save your seat in a café when you need the toilet or get up to order another drink. It says to other people: someone is sitting here, and will return shortly – please sit elsewhere. It says to the staff: please do not clear away my drink. And it doesn’t say to a thief: please steal me (even if it does, the cost of replacement is a tolerable annoyance).
Fourth: baths, beaches and butterfingers.
If you drop a paperback, it’ll be fine. Drop it in the bath and it might be salvagable. Get it full of salty grains of sand on the beach, you’ll never get them out, but it won’t affect its useful lifespan. Your ereader won’t like any of these. Not one bit. And if any of them kills it, it’s not cheap to replace.
Call me a pedant, but I’m a massive pedant. That’s why I like the fact that the standards demanded by professional publishers rarely let more than a couple of literals through to the printed page in any normal size tome. But ebooks are – for reasons that no one’s managed to explain to me yet – littered with the horrible, distracting things.
Oh, thanks, Amazon – you sorted out a system where I can borrow a book off a friend. But for two weeks only, during which said friend can’t access the title. I know there are licensing considerations, but surely if you want to encourage the success of books in an age of TV, movies and games, then giving a husband and wife (or friends) access to the same book at the same time might prove profitable. It can’t be just me who feels sore paying more for something that’s harder to share?
I like short chapters because I’m a slow and deliberate reader and it feels neat to stop in the designated sidings the author provides. I like to know if I’ve got time to start a new chapter (before going to sleep, or pulling into my destination on a non-metaphorical railway). But you can’t flick through an ebook’s pages. You must plod through the transitions. It feels like work. I’d sooner not.
I could go on and get personal. I could tell you that I would miss “new book smell”, the soft flick of poor quality paper, waking up with a dead thumb gripped in a literary nelson or the ability to squish bothersome members of the insect kingdom. But those aren’t real reasons – they’re soon-to-be anachronistic nostalgia.
When ebooks are cheap, easily lent, flight-safe and adequately proofread, I’ll change my mind. I’ll be happier still if the pages turn quicker, the devices start looking nicer, become less nickable and become more rugged. And I can’t wait. Until then, it’s paper and ink for me.
By Paddy Smith