Tuesday, 21 July 2009


I find the best way to avoid something is to pretend it’s not happening. Head in the sand or fingers in the ears, la la la, not listening. But before long I’m going to have to consider that ugliest of words: ebook. Or e-book. Or eBook. Having gone from a derisible piece of vanity technology to supposedly the end of books as we know them, I suspect the reality lies somewhere in between. Resistance to technology usually proves abortive, but I find it impossible to envisage a time when I’ll download the latest Safran Foer or Ali Smith to my reader-thingy, but then I used to laugh at the idea of having a mobile phone. Being late to this debate I’m not au fait with the other side – the one that ignores the tactile pleasure of reading, the inimitable scent of new and old books, the sheer comfort of seeing literature. And I really don’t mind carrying four books with me on holiday, honest.

So can anyone enlighten me? Is publishing going to change forever? Can the experience really mimic reading from a page? Will my local independent bookshop (I don’t have one really – it became a Subway a year ago – but for argument’s sake) become an illegal den surreptitiously dealing in NVBs (Non Virtual Books)? What will the term ‘second-hand book’ mean? Will emerging writers find book deals easier or harder to come by? What if I’m on a small Pacific island, ten pages to go in the Book of the Year, and my battery goes? Will the pretentious download classics never-to-be-read to their eLibrary?

Okay, I’ve read 500 short stories for a competition – they’re heavy to carry about, so I can see the appeal for some: publishers, agents, editors. But I find it all rather soulless.


Paloma Chaffinch said...

I am incredibly tempted by ebook readers but keep putting off getting one because I have such a lot of unread books I can't wait to get to. I love gadgets - that's the beginning and end of it I guess.

But on the other side of the coin I agree with you wholeheartedly that they seem rather soulless - a bit like Facebook is a soulless way of having friends and digital cameras are a soulless way of being a photographer.

Nicola Morgan said...

I am a techno-obsessive (today, I got and fell in love with my iphone) and (therefore??) I have an ereader. I hate it. It's got dust on it now. I'd love to sell it but I'd feel bad making someone pay for it. The only people I know who love them are publishers and agents because they can carry people's MSS around without breaking their backs.

You are missing nothing.

TOM J VOWLER said...

I'm often drawn to gadgets, P, but books is books. Period.

Thought not, Nicola.

Barb said...

So you're in your hammock, a light breeze coming in from the south west, the smell of iodine in the air. You put down your G&T long enough to pick up your novel, but you have to turn it on first?
How do you get to admire the cover art?
Flip it over and read the blurb?
See the little creases in the spine that mark how much you've read and how much is smooth and still to come?

It will never work.

TOM J VOWLER said...

Indeed, Barb.

Sometime in August the postman is going to deliver me an almost-untouched by human hand, first edition hardback of the new William Trevor novel. I imagine the text on the cover will be subtly embossed and that I'll run my finger along it, before carefully turning to the first page. This is definitely NOT like clicking my mouse to download it.

Si Withers said...

Books have that crucial fetish quality too: they are collectable. You can loan them out and share them with friends and your mum. Bookish people collect and lavish love upon their books much as true collectors of music pore over album sleeves and liner notes and accept that the actual music therein is only half the story. The cover of a book, as with an album, is a part of the thing.

As someone who loves books as artefacts, and who has a very different attitude to the screen as I do to the printed page (apart from when writing), my attitude to the e-book is much like that of the caterpillar cynically eyeing a passing butterfly in the well-known joke: "You'll never get me up in one of those things," he says. ;-)

TOM J VOWLER said...

Fetishism? Hmmm.

Vienna said...

I had exactly this conversation with a few friends over the weekend. What can I say? I love books. Touching, smelling, collecting,transorting them. I don't thing they will ever disappear. If we compare the technology progress in other areas, such as music, film, well, yes, we have i-pods, films in our PCs... but there is always a hard copy available somewhere. Cds instead of tapes, dvds instead of video tapes. Always a hard copy. We like fetish, I think. Definitely the e-book will conquer its technological space, but I want to believe there will still be 'old fashioned' books (I am scared of the denomination I've just given to 'just books'). Thinking positive, maybe e-books, since they will be cheaper, will mean better opportunities for new writers. What do you think?

TOM J VOWLER said...

I'm not sure, Vienna. It would be nice to think so, bucking the trend of publishers taking fewer risks on new writers, as seems the case now. But although production and distribution would be cheaper, it would still come down to sales and profitability, whatever the medium.

Vienna said...

You are probably right. Just wishful thinking... Hoping all these changes will bring something positive.

MLH said...
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