I did something yesterday that I’ve never done in my adult life. Ever. Not once in living memory. And I’m racked with guilt today. I feel like I’ve sold my soul, gone over to the dark side, crossed a line of no return.
I left the flat for the airport without a book in my bag. Usually I take one book for every two days I’m away – and this time I didn’t take any, not one, even though I had two staring at me lovingly from the kitchen table as I left.
Last month, after years of dithering, I broke down and bought a Kindle. I blame it on the airlines and their meagre baggage allowance. If it hadn’t come down to a choice between wine and books, I’d never have crossed the line.
I love my books. I haul them with me whenever I move. I have boxes of them in the attic at home and my shelves in Budapest are double-stacked. I have converted plants stands to book stands and regularly have stacks of the blighters lining my hallway. I classify them as long-term relationships or one-night stands, the latter being those in which I’m not emotionally invested.
I love the feel of them. The smell of them. The sound of them on a quiet afternoon when I curl up on the couch and hear nothing but the turning of a page. And I like the look of them. The more books someone has in their home, the more I trust them. There’s no scientific explanation for that, but I’ve never laid claim to excessive rationality. I just like people who like books.
Ann Marlowe, writing in the Tablet in January, wouldn’t be impressed with me. She writes about accumulation, and the need to purge, to get rid of books in favour of a minimalist-style Kindle. Space is of the essence – but then, which would I prefer? A room with packed bookshelves or one with bare walls… both, cried she, I want it all.
Earlier this year, there was an article doing the rounds about how people retain less information when reading an ebook than a real book… and it’s all to do with turning the page.
When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right. You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual … [The differences for Kindle readers] might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story, is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading. Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader’s sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story.
Anyway, after a month of looking at the thing in its box, I took it out yesterday, charged it up, and downloaded some free books just to try it out. I’m half-way through the first one and I know why it’s free.
One good thing about my Kindle, though, is that it lies flat and I can read and eat at the same time. Which is a bad thing, too, as I should be doing one or the other if I’m serious about learning to be present. Another good thing is that it always weighs the same. Which is a bad thing, too, as I’ve no sense of how far along I am in the book (and no, the percentage metre on the bottom just doesn’t do it for me).
So why do I feel guilty? Perhaps because I’ve been swearing for years that I’d never go there.
A man I like a lot – Stephen Fry – reckons that books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators. So I shouldn’t feel as my going over to the dark side is endangering the species.
Another man I like a lot – Douglas Adams – reckons that lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food. Fair point. Words are good (or bad) wherever they’re written.
And as for Stephen King – If you drop a book into the toilet, you can fish it out, dry it off and read that book. But if you drop your Kindle in the toilet, you’re pretty well done. Enough said, but as I can’t remember ever dropping a book down the loo, that argument doesn’t really hold water.
I will persevere though and see how me and my new friend get along. Rome wasn’t built in a day and considering the Tablet I bought last year has only seen the light of day once, I should make a better effort to be more tech savvy. And, of course, there’s always the weight issue.