I love my books. I love turning a new one over in my hand, the smell of fresh ink on paper and the colours and design of the cover. I have about five hundred that I’ve been collecting since I was a child, transporting them through three countries and five cities. Recently I unboxed some from the garage and among them I found an early edition of Bobby Sands’ One day in my Life that he had written in Long Kesh and smuggled out during the Hunger strike. My A – Level English teacher, a dungaree wearing radical, had lent it to me in the early eighties and I had never given it back. I winced when I read the inscription. It must have meant a lot to her. I felt terrible. Who knows how she came by it? It would probably never have been found on the shelves of any UK bookshops at that time and it felt heavy with history in my hands.
As I tucked it away on my special bookshelf that I keep for favourites and signed copies, I wondered how many books I’d be placing there in the years to come. My own novel will soon be there hopefully, but I’m not sure how many more because I now read on a Kindle. I know I am not alone among writers in this. A show of hands at a recent author’s fair I attended indicated that over eighty percent of the writers there were at it.
I succumbed to a Kindle paper white a few months ago when my novel found a publisher. I had resisted for some time but I convinced myself I needed to experience a Kindle if I were to have my own e book. I read on it reluctantly at first, like a child being force-fed a new vegetable but I soon became addicted. I like its convenience, the way it can slip easily into my bag, its weight and touch screen page turning action. I like the way I can change the font size and I’ve put away my reading glasses.
I can now read in bed without a lamp and in direct sunlight without a towel over my head.
I read more and possibly faster on a Kindle and whenever I read a printed book (and I still do), it feels slightly cumbersome. Cost is a big factor. Once the device is paid for, a new e-book can cost up to a third of the price of the printed version. If you’re an avid reader like me that’s a big saving. Then there’s accessibility. That “Oh I can’t wait to read that” feeling is satisfied in a minute with a quick download, wherever you are at the time.
And yet I feel uneasy. I feel I am letting myself down, like smoking when I’ve been drinking or driving the kids to school instead of walking. I am taking the lazy option, worshipping at the temple of Amazon and betraying my local bookshop. I still buy cheap printed books and browse in shops (I find no pleasure browsing on a Kindle) but sadly I do it far less than I used to.
The thing I miss most is passing on books to friends and family, discussing them and connecting with others through stories. I recently read an article by the writer Niall Williams about the relationship between himself and his father and how they had connected through books. For Williams, the words “For Niall, my books.” contained a world of meaning when his father left them to him in his will. He pointed out that the words, “For my daughter, my Kindle.” could never have the same effect.
Who knows how things will pan out in the future? I’d like to think my children might keep my Kindle on a special shelf somewhere when I go but I’m also hoping the printed book will be wildly fashionable again by then in the same way vinyl records have made a comeback and they’ll be fighting over my collection, Bobby Sands included.