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The Book is Dead. Long Live the Book!

What we find in books is like the fire in our hearths. We fetch it from our neighbours, we kindle it at home, we communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.

Voltaire

I’ve been reading on the Kindle for PC for a while, but have been upgraded to a Kindle, before Kindle upgrades itself again – to include colour graphics – which the Kindle for PC offered anyway.

There’s no doubt it’s a complicated business. I’ve been disappointed there’s no backlight on the Kindle, which of course the Kindle for PC does have but, overall, reading from the Kindle itself is a lot more user-friendly than reading from a screen: less tiring on the eyes.

And actually, it’s the way forward isn’t it? I am not some burn-the-books fanatic, but spreading the word is a lot easier, a lot more cost-effective and a lot more democratic via electronic devices than through print press.

There’s a sadness about that too though. Print creates jobs, but it also uses up resources, so to take the sustainable view, using Kindle and suchlike to read your basic ‘print’ matter must be better in the long run surely? But tell that to those people involved in the publishing, printing, distribution and book retail sectors and see what they say.

People say: oh, I love books. The 3Dness of it, the tactile nature of the experience, the smell, the sense of where I am in it all when I turn the pages. I can lose myself in a book. Equally, I hear the same said of the Kindle. Well I hear people say – I love my Kindle. There doesn’t seem to be quite the range of kinaesthetic experiences available to someone kindling their way through a novel.

On the other hand you can store so much matter on a Kindle. Now I know there are many people who love books enough to keep everything they ever read: I come from a family of bibliophiles who, if they happen to read this (and I kind of hope they don’t), will be gnashing their very teeth at the heresy of this kind of post. Bibliophiles have shelves and shelves of books and that’s lovely, if you’ve got the space. But what if you don’t? And what if you are living with a bibliophobe – someone who finds books untrustworthy at best, and oppressive at worst. Well, a bibliophile will say that the phobe needs correcting in the error of their ways. And I agree that to not enjoy reading is to miss out on one of life’s great pleasures. However, if you want someone to try something out perhaps a handheld gadget is less threatening than a 300 page book, or twenty. It’s a thought. Maybe there’s an aphorism to be had in all of this conflict: that to be well-read these days does not have to mean you have to keep lots of books.

Perhaps, if I try some premembering here, a book will become a luxury item, only warranting a print run for the production of beautiful images and text, or leather-bound collector’s limited editions, or a vanity publishing project, which is where the whole shebang started after all. In fact now, as people can self-publish straight to ebook, we are returning full circle to writers using print to self-publish to reach a wider audience: William Blake, Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau to name but a few…

Books are desirable, but they also need to be accessible, sustainable and available when you want them. The Kindle is a great device for all those reasons, but it’s still not a book. Rather than entertain the notion that a Kindle’s subtext is about tossing paperbacks on the bonfire, I prefer to think of it as wholly in the spirit of the Voltaire quote this post started with. The differences between the two media are a cause for celebration, not a reason to start a fight.