Sunday, 8 February 2009


My wife and I entertained her brother and his wife this weekend, and during Sunday breakfast the topic of electronic book readers emerged. The brother-in-law, who is neither slow nor unenthusiastic when it comes to embracing new technology, could not see himself becoming a convert, partly because of the difficulties and hazards that might be involved in reading from such a device while in the bath, which for him is an essential benchmark any information platform must reach. Another objection he raised stems from the fact that he enjoys a very tactile - albeit somewhat severe - relationship with his paperbacks, which, like the bucking broncos of Wild West legend - have first to be tamed by (and here I trust the analogy does not transfer) having their spines broken and being trained to lie absolutely flat on a nearby surface. This is so that he can read them without the use of his hands other than to turn the pages, his hands often being simultaneously required for other tasks, the brother-in-law being a dizzyingly busy and productive individual.

This brought us on to the discovery that he has recently - due to the fiscal belt-tightening necessitated by about seven people in the world becoming insanely rich while running banks very badly - returned to using his local library, a pleasure which I, for much the same reason, also restored to my life a few weeks ago. We created a touching moment over the bacon, eggs and beans by sharing our wide-eyed wonder in the renewed realisation that one could walk into a building full equally of books and very nice, knowledgable people and walk away clutching an armful of literature of many varieties at absolutely no cost. Our only regret was that we had banished this readily available magic from our lives for so many years, lulled away by bookshops with their alluring, shapely dumpbins and gaudily made-up books surrendering themselves to us cheaply or for free. The brother-in-law observed that he had seen an advertisement in his library wittily promising "Buy none, get 8 free".

I must emphasise that the missing link between the first and the second topics was my sister-in-law observing that a rather different handling regime would have to prevail with those books belonging to the local authority.

It is now frequently reported that the death of the book has been frequently reported, and it will be interesting to observe how much and how quickly the e-reader is absorbed. I hope I'm not consigning myself to the luddite or old fogey departments when I predict that enough people will continue to find what has been castigated as the 'dead tree format' the most comfortable and pleasurable way to read, to enable the paper book to continue.

Quotation of the day
"No wise man ever wished to be younger". Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, to be published by Capuchin Classics in May, with a new introduction by Jeremy Paxman.



Frangee said...

Like this one, David. I couldn't afford to buy the number of books I read both for pleasure and for my course - the Inter-library loan service is also pretty good (and cheap - £1.00 a book - for finding books for the course too.) Incidentally, I think it is unreasonable for a university to put books down on a reading list when there is only one copy in the library!

Nathalie de Broglio said...

Are your local libraries doing as mine do, and selling off books that haven't been issued for two years?

I have bought many wonderful books for 10 or 20 pence each as a result of this policy. But I find it so sad to go into the library, as I have done every week or so for the past forty years, and find shelves as bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboard as a result of this policy.