Saturday, 5 March 2011


I have to admit to being torn over whether or not the e-book reader is for me. At the last count we had over 500 books in our house. And they're not all mine - both my husband and 9 year old daughter love books too, we just can't help ourselves. Rare is the occasion that we can browse a bookshop and not spend any money, so in theory, the e-reader/Kindle/iPad should be a godsend to us. The books can be downloaded in minutes, they are often cheaper, the pad takes up less space and, if the advertisements are to be believed, it is a more convenient good egg all round. So far so good, and I am indeed, sorely tempted.


I still have a dictionary that belonged to my grandfather. He died more than 25 years ago, the pages are thin and silky and the spine is holding on for dear life and ….and here is the most important still smells of him. No, that's not right, it doesn't smell of him, but it has a smell that reminds me of him. In a Proust moment, when I hold the pages to my face – I can remember my grandfather. I can't remember his voice, but I can remember what he said and I remember his face - his being. There is an inscription on the front page – in my grandfather's handwriting – I look at this elegant, old-fashioned script and I see his hand writing it: it's a moment from his time here on earth and apart from my fading memories and a few dog-eared photographs, it is the only thing I have left of him.

So.. this is a treasure to me which goes far beyond the mere contents of its pages – it's no longer just a reference book to be used when I get stuck trying to spell manuver , manouvre, manoeuvre. I have other books with memories attached, my youngest daughter's first book, a WW2 first aid book that belonged to my grandmother (very handy if you want to know what to do in an air-raid or facts about rickets, TB and scurvy). Some of the books have been signed by the author (are book signings threatened with the advancement of the e-book reader?), some have the corners of the pages turned over (a heinous crime) and some have been scribbled over by various under-5s from our family. Some have pieces of paper tucked within their pages for safekeeping – notes from the reader: a shopping list, a postcard – these are all interesting links to the past.

A Kindle, e-reader or ipad can never hold this history. It is a convenience without a soul. Granted it provides an immediate library that meets our ever-increasing need for ease and speed – but are we losing something in the process? The tangibility, the connection of organics – the fingertips and the leaves of a book and the personal significance it may hold – soon, the only thing we will touch will be the centimetre squares of the keyboard or the cold sleekness of the screen – there will be no significance, no sentiment, only a harsh provision of our needs.

I don't know if this will be a good thing for the future – I appreciate you cannot stand in the way of progress – look what happened to vinyl (OK, I know... I still have all my Simon & Garfunkel LPs in a box under the bed), and the paper used to make books destroys trees which is not so green; but what happens to these machines when they are discarded? The iPad was upgraded after only 11 months; is a landfill site full of electronic rejects any better?

So what to do? An e-book reader or not? At the moment I feel there is a place for both and I hope it stays that way for I would hate to see the actual paper version replaced entirely. But I do still love my books, even though they take up so much room in the house and they weigh down my handbag as I lug them to the coffee shop. Maybe I will come round to total electronic reading when Steve Jobs can produce a magical combination of convenience with a human touch and a pad that can hold my grandfather's signature (in ink – not a synthetic facsimile, mind) and a piece of my history.

"When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered· the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls· bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory" -Marcel Proust "The Remembrance of Things 


  1. Hmm, even as someone who is hoping for a Kindle for my birthday, I agree with you. We had a pogrom on our books when we moved to this current house, got rid of about a third. Which still leaves us with literally thousands (roughly 3 at the last guestimate) and I shan't be letting most of this collection go.
    My daughter asked me the other day if I had a copy of Ovid's metamorphoses and while I could only find book 8 in the Latin, I opened it and went back in time, reading my own pencilled notes and remembering sitting dozing through lectures.
    No, for me the Kindle is a travelling companion....for journeys where taking a half dozen books with me is impractical. I really wanted to wait till they produce something you can also use as a word processor too, but the fact that they now have wifi and email is enough. I can bring my netbook to write on.
    Books are endangered. let's create a sanctuary!

  2. A sanctuary of books! Perfect heaven. Yes, I think you've hit the nail on the head about the Kindle being a travelling companion. That is one of its strongest plus points. I suppose the happiest solution for me would be one that allows paper and electronic to work alongside one another

  3. There is a place for both but, in the 3 months I've had it I've grown to love my Kindle for reading page-turning novels on. There are many reasons why I would recommend one but the 2 main ones for me are:
    - You can read 'hands free'. So it's great in those situations where you cannot read a regular book as you do not have a spare hand to hold it open at the page you want (eg when drying your hair - a job so boring you need a good book to distract you).
    - You don't need to wear reading glasses as the font size is adjustable.
    Also if I were still a commuter I'm sure it would be so much easier to read on a crowded train.

  4. I think it may be many years if ever before the paper book begins to vanish, but because I travel a lot for work(not commuting, though that would also be good) and travel abroad, the idea of having my own little library with me when I hit my hotel room at night.
    I once bought Twilight with me on an overnight trip to Lille and had nothing else to read and nowhere to get an English book late at night~ 'twas a nightmare beyond imagining. Dire prose and dismal plot~ still it did send me to sleep!!