What my Dad calls a Pringle – and the sane call a Kindle – is quickly becoming one of our best-selling commodities. Students scream about value for money, my mother commends their lightweight and slim figure, and dear old Granny (she has a sexy red number) constantly admires the enlarged font. You can carry a whole library in one hand! You can read 50 Shades of Grey on the Tube without provoking uncomfortable conversation! You can buy Bill’s Complete Works for 10p!
A friend of mine has just been published – casually – and although similarly stalwart to me in his admiration of the book, he’s also had to concede to e-book status because that’s what his agent – and the market – demands. Were we to depose the fat old book, humankind’s best friend, with its gym-bunny Kindle-file cousin, it’d be like the equivalent of worldwide canine genocide. Imagine the furore!
I’m not actually a dog person – sorry – but I do have to refute all those Kindleverts – Stephen Fry included; I’m sure he’s interested in my thoughts – and argue the book’s case. Even if they are complicated and demand attention and money, surely our centuries-old love affair with them should continue? They’re comforting and smell like vanilla, they’re satisfyingly heavy. You can drop them in the bath without fear of electrocution. You can lend them to a friend. They’re not subject to VAT. You can write in the margins – or buy them from a second-hand bookshop, and read what other people have written in the margins. They’ve been made – by a machine, yes, but a lovely big one – and they’re not subject to error 404. The printing press is civilisation’s friendliest tool – up there with those cute two-part toothbrushes distributed on aeroplanes.
We’re the Microwave Generation – I vividly remember picking mushrooms out of gungy tagliatelle in my childhood – a cheap-broadband-buying, iPad-wielding, Fit-Flop-wearing population. At what point will our growing obsession with compulsive multitasking obscure for good the importance of human craft?
Someone has sat down for years, thinking about that story, that play, that collection of poetry – agonised over the characterisations, the plot, the stage directions. Some poor copywriter has typed it all out, and someone else has glued the pages together.
I’m sure people will continue to write stories, whatever happens, but the move to e-books represents the fall of the last barrier between us and the steady downfall into sound bites and reduced-price Anna Kareninas. We won’t queue for the next Harry Potter anymore; that camaraderie will dissipate as a wave of automatic high-speed downloads all over the world will crash the global servers once a year. The next Tolstoy will be paid a pittance.
Find me somewhere that develops black-and-white film. Or anyone with a mini-disk player. We consumers are fickle, so don’t tempt us with something that we can’t resist… I’m happy to play Angry Birds daily and write this article on a computer, but books? Don’t let’s destroy our real best friends.