Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Final surrender

Let me get it right - I love books. Have always loved books, have always bought too many books, have several times got rid of huge numbers of my books for various reasons: moving countries is a good reason. Or running out of shelf space.Then I buy more books.

I have great respect for books. I don't write or highlight or underline in books (if I work with a book, I use post-its). In my youth, books were hard to get hold of. Books were valuable. I could occasionally pay a monthly salary for a very attractive book (were books expensive or was my salary miserable?).

On the other hand, I have no reverence for first or rare editions, and I like paperbacks, not only because they are cheaper, but because they are lighter and easier to read in bed or bring on a trip. And I have long ago discovered the practicality of Project Guthenberg when you are looking for a quote.

Yet I have so far not succumbed for reading devices.

I wonder whether having a Kindle is something literature people don't talk about, like a shameful disease. Because we all love books. Because books are so important, and all these horrible electronic things imply demise of the book. No literary scholar with self-respect will ever fall as low as reading e-books. Although for me it is most often the text that is important, not the physical object.

Anyway, yesterday as I started thinking about what books I want to take with me when I go to Sweden next week and then to Brazil the week after... and I remembered last time I was in Brazil and ran out of books and all those transatlantic flights when you finish a book in the middle of the trip and have no other choice than to start all over (you can do it with some books, but not all). And all the times you open a book you've brought on the plane and discover that you just don't want to read it right now, but you have to because there is nothing else to read except the inflight magazine.

I went on amazon and started looking, to begin with, whether any books I have on my current reading list were available as e-books, and of course they were, and since I am in the period of re-reading major classics, most of them are free. As I was clicking around I saw a link saying "Download Kindle for your PC". I thought I would try to see whether I sort of generally, in principle, hypothetically would be happy to read a novel on a screen. Because if it was awful there'd be no point in getting a Kindle.

I downloaded it, and I downloaded a book that had been on my reading list for a while, Tess of the d'Urbervilles. I read Mayor of Castebridge a couple of months ago, and it was magnificent. A good, solid, crisp, smelly Penguin Classic. Could it be as good on screen? Yes, it was. It actually made no difference at all, except that when I had my laptop in bed, there was no room for the cat, so she was upset and left and never came back. But I read Tess of the d'Urbervilles for a couple of hours, and it made no difference whatsoever, and I played a bit with changing font size and opening two pages on screen, but it really didn't matter. Only my laptop is definitely heavier than a paperback, and it also gets very hot. I have a smaller laptop that I take with me on travel, and this morning I downloaded Kindle onto it and discovered, to my joy, that my Tess was there as well. And yet...

The estimated delivery of my Kindle is next Monday. I'll keep you posted.


Richard Shakeshaft said...

I have just bought one for my wife's birthday present for next week (at her request): I shall very much look forward to hearing your thoughts on it too!

Robin said...

It really makes sense to me, what you said about first/rare editions. A big part of me loves books but doesn't care about reading most of them. While packing, I heard myself say to my husband, "Oh, this book looks so good! I should read it!" I was talking about a book I've owned for years. I probably bought it because I liked the thing itself, not because of what was inside. Who knows, it might have had pretty binding or something. But the love of the Thing (sometimes more than the love of the story) has me resisting e-readers. I think for the love of a story, it won't matter in the end.

Richard Shakeshaft said...

I have several first editions and corrected proofs, but they are all of books I loved and I replaced the paperback or borrowed edition with a rarer, more special or interesting example. For example, most of my 'Jennings' collection are FEs!

Maria Nikolajeva said...

Collecting books is a different thing. I guess I am really indifferent to it: I donated dozens of first editions, signed by the authors, to a library.