I read in the news yesterday that Tim Waterstone (of Waterstone’s bookshops fame) is predicting that e-books have had their day, compared to real, made-of-trees books. While e-books have their share of the market, that share is in decline, while hardback books are selling comparatively well (full article here).
I love my Kindle. It’s light, portable, lights up in the dark so I can read in bed, and it carries a lot of books. I love being able to change the type size (my eyesight is rubbish and pre-Kindle I nearly made myself blind trying to read the tiny print on my copy of A Clash of Kings). My Kindle also feels as nice as a book – it has a lovely purple faux leather cover – with the added benefit that it stays open on my lap or on a table.
But… I’ve just moved house. For the last 10 months all my books (the paper ones) have been in storage. This morning I started to unpack them, and was brought face-to-face with why e-books will never replace real books. There’s the worryingly yellow vegetarian cookbook that ensured I didn’t starve to death when I was a student. The book of Norse legends I won as a school prize when I was six. The Christmas and birthday gifts from people I love, or people I used to love in the case of the paperback copies of Kes and Absolute Beginners. Books that recall days spent reading in various gardens or beaches. The latest in my long line of copies of The Catcher In The Rye (I keep lending them to people and never get them back). The hardback of A Prayer for Owen Meany that I bought in New York the month it was published and read in the very strange world of JFK airport overnight while we waited to get the plane home (staying awake at the airport was cheaper than paying for another night in a hotel – but nothing was open. The cleaners gave us some food when their tea trolley came around). The catalogue to an exhibition of Antony Gormley’s work at the Hayward Gallery that I could have had signed – Gormley was wandering around taking photographs, but I didn’t want to disturb him while he was working.
I can’t imagine any of the books I’ve read on Kindle would have the same resonance for me in decades to come. I’ll remember some of the stories and some of the information I’ve read, but it won’t be the same. A made-from-trees book is the ideas and imagination inside, but it’s also a physical thing that you held in your hand, packed in your bag, moved from bookshelf to bookshelf, house to house.
E-books can never replace that.