Well, it's been a long time coming. Back on 18 September 2008 I wrote a post, called 'To e or not to e', looking at the appeal of e-readers versus conventional books. The e-readers didn't come out well: I was prepared to say that there was a certain allure about the Sony and the iLiad but that the prices were far too high. This is what I had to say about Amazon's Kindle:
'My gut instinct is a Luddite one, and when I saw pictures of Amazon's Kindle machine my baseline hostility had aesthetic revolt added to it. The thing looks ghastly. Why do gadget producers think white is a practical colour for a gizmo they hope will be in daily use (cf Apple products)? That pristine science fiction purity will not last - the thing will end up fingerprint-tainted and smeary. Yich. The Kindle's whiteness just looks cheap to me and the design is pug-ugly and clumsy. It reminds me of gadgets sold in the Seventies with cheesy tacky adverts - do you remember K-Tel?'
What a difference a couple of years makes! I'm now the proud owner of a Kindle - so why have I succumbed? In a nutshell: style, ease and convenience, portability and access.
This brings me to another delightful feature - you can download free samples of books so that you can make a decision about whether you'll go ahead and buy. Just as with standing in a bookshop reading the first few pages of a potential purchase, sometimes this leads to a purchase, sometimes not. To any of you writers out there, this is a very important feature: when you're submitting your work to agents it's crucial to get your opening right - we all know this. But it's becoming even more crucial when the Kindle purchaser makes a judgement based on a sample. This is how the modern world works: we want to be hooked instantaneously. Go back and check your story's opening - would you go ahead and buy?
Do I have any quibbles? Yes, of course. It's rather heavier than I thought it would be, to be honest. The keyboard has very fiddly little keys. In Paris I read Ernest Shackleton's 'South' and the lack of maps and charts (it was one of the free books) was irritating. But the biggest problem I have with it is finding my way about as there are no page numbers. This is because the change text-size facility alters the pagination, so Amazon has gone for a 'location' bar along the bottom, which gives you an idea of what proportion of the book you've read. OK, I'm getting more used to that but if I want to flick back to a previous page or reference, I can't - unless I open the search box and type in a term. That's my biggest grouch with it.
You get past that by realising you haven't chosen e-reader over book - the two are complementary. I can load one-read-only books on my Kindle, or old classics, I can try samples and I can carry loads of reading material around with me. I save space on my overloaded shelves. But I will never never never fall out of love with books themselves: here's what I wrote back in 2008 -
'Books, now. Ah, books ... I sniff at my new books like a Bisto kid. I stroke their spot-laminated covers. I browse in bookshops and buy books by happenstance. I find old books I never knew existed and read notes and signature of people long-dead who also cherished these words. I pick up a book, I put it down, I pick it up again - it is still there for me, patient and loyal, ready to give up ideas, knowledge and felicitious phrases whenever I want. It does not run out of charge. If I lose my place or want to find a previous reference, I flick. I don't scroll or jab buttons. I can find my way about it with ease and there is a democracy of pages at work. In my house, books teeter in piles and are crammed on shelves, their spines a display of colour, of changing fashions in jacket copy, an instant reminder, each one, of when and why I bought it, an instant trigger to feelings I had on reading it, what was going on in my life during that first literary encounter. Some are tucked away, shamefast, like old boyfriends you cannot for the life of you understand once had an appeal for you. Some evoke the safety of childhood. Some scream youthful pretentiousness at you. Some are comforts in the darkest night. Some have stretched your horizons. Some make your heart race. Some lull you with the most beautiful of rhythms, the most beloved of words. Some make you cry. And they're all there, eternally waiting without reproach, just for you. So if someone wants to give me an e-reader for Christmas, well, yippee. It'll be fun. It'll be a frolic. But the love of books, real paper books, tried and trusted (bless you, Gutenberg) solid enduring instant-access books - that love is in the marrow of my bones.