Are you one of those people who said “I just can’t imagine curling up in bed with a computer?” I am. As I write this, I feel it sounds a little like the plot of some dubious ‘80s technofear rom com with a soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder, but what I’m actually getting at is that many of us once rejected the notion of ever reading novels on an electronic device. Many of us still do.
I am a book lover from way back: an avid reader, yes, but also a genuine lover of books. I used to love the smell of a new book. I used to take pride in reading a book without creasing its cover, without staining any pages. I chose carefully book-appropriate book marks (thin plastic for a novel; something Post-It related for your larger coffee table works). I never, EVER dog-eared a page. I had the best personal library of anyone I knew, yet no one was brave enough to borrow. Books were my ‘thing’.
As the years have gone by I must confess I’ve relaxed my standards in this regard. If and when I get the precious time to read a book, I devour it any way it comes. I will now take hitherto unimaginable risks, like reading in the bath or with a coffee in hand. If the book no longer stays in pristine condition, it is a sign that it has been enjoyed. I can pinpoint precisely the three things that changed my mind:
- Working at the British Library: In my role as a Curator there I stood next to some of the world’s greatest book-related treasures. I observed experts performing delicate repairs on thousand year old manuscripts. I came to appreciate that a ‘book’ might be written on wood, or stone, or skin. I came to understand the evolution and significance of the holy books of many different religions. I held some of the first books ever to be published (as in, literally, the first ones from the first printing presses, ever). It did nothing to lessen my respect for books, but it made me a whole lot less precious about my run of the mill paperbacks.
- Having kids: My children (not surprisingly) have a pretty big library of their own and I’m teaching them to respect their books too, but not at the expense of accessibility. I’m not about to condone scribbling or stomping, no matter how lenient I may now be about the odd crease or crumb. But I also want my kids to feel comfortable about books. As a child, my books were like friends and, as such, I want my kids to reach out to one whenever they need to, without the tidy-police hovering over their experience. Their bookshelves are low, untidy and available. We’ll save the alphabetising for next year.
- Writing a book review blog: I am lucky enough to get review copies of a lot of the books featured at This Charming Mum and this does change the way I interact with them. Adding notes in the margins, or a folded page corner here or there, can be the easiest way for me to read quickly and attentively. Often these books are proof copies too, which means they sometimes include typos and other errors along with bold warnings that they are for the proof reader’s eyes only. I’m unlikely to share them around too widely, so no one will ever know if I there’s a chocolate smear on page 37. And review copies are increasingly being made available to me as e-books, forcing me to get with the program. I am teaching myself to forget about smells, and textures, and cover designs and start considering the possible ‘pros’ of this new medium.
So, whilst I’ll never stop admiring The Book as a physical object, I am slowly coming to accept certain positive aspects of the e-reading experience. These include:
- They are great in bed! iPhones/iPads/any other brand of tablet or phone have inbuilt book lights. Contrary to my earlier perspective, it is in fact fantastic to curl up in bed reading a book with a perfect amount of light behind your words.
- I now have a book available on my smart phone anywhere, anytime. I don’t always carry a physical book if I’m only doing the school run, or popping to the shops, but I do always carry my phone. So, anytime I have an unexpected 10 minutes of time to waste I can read a chapter rather than surf mindlessly. My Facebook friends have, I suspect, noticed a decrease in statuses related to boredom.
- There’s not much choice. It’s happening. The slow drift from one mode to the other is making it cheaper for publishers to publish and cheaper for readers to read so who’s going to try to stop it? I have seen the future, and it’s on my phone.
Next week on the blog I’ll be giving away 10 e-books alongside my reviews. For those who are already on board, I hope you’ll join in for a freebie. If you haven’t tried the e-book experience yet, allow me to introduce you! Watch this space….
And if you want to see a fine example of old meets new, take a trip around the British Library’s digitised manuscripts collection. The St Cuthbert Gospel is a personal favourite because of the story behind its discovery…
The St Cuthbert Gospel
“The St Cuthbert Gospel (formerly known as the Stonyhurst Gospel) is the oldest intact European book. Made in the late-7th century, the manuscript contains a copy of the Gospel of St John, and was apparently placed in the coffin of St Cuthbert (c. 635–687) when he was re-interred at Lindisfarne in 698. Cuthbert’s coffin was subsequently removed to Durham, where it was opened in September 1104 on the occasion of the translation of his remains, and the book discovered inside.” (www.bl.uk)