Books, Books and E-books

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Ever since I first learned how to read, I have spent much of my time with my nose in a book. I was starting to read by myself by age seven, I think. That’s a good 37 years ago. I have devoured a great many books in that time.

In recent years there has been much debate about the format of books – hardback; paperback; e-book. In my own personal library, there are more paperbacks than anything else. But this is largely because I have been a commuter for the last 25 years, and most of my reading has been done on the train to and from work. Paperbacks are much more transportable than hardbacks. In the last four years or so I’ve had an e-reader and have been collecting e-books, and it won’t be long before they overtake the number of paperbacks, even given their relatively recent appearance on the market.

I also possess a number of hardbacks in my library. Most of them have come my way as gifts, from someone who wants to buy me the absolute latest novel by one of my favourite authors, and who feels that a hardback is a more substantial gift than a paperback. I also have hardbacks that are personalised and signed by the author, because I went to their signing session and bought the book.

Ultimately the format is not as important as the words in the page. Books can transport you into another world. They are an escape from everyday life. They are the key to you becoming someone else, even if just for a few hours.  A dashing and brave hero. A magician with superior intellect. A hard-bitten cynical cop. The daring captain of a spaceship. Whatever you want to be, the words of a novel can take you there.

And yet the format of a book still matters, even though it shouldn’t. Many people insist they don’t like the idea of e-books because they prefer the feel of a ‘proper’ book. As if e-books are somehow not ‘proper’ books. I must admit I was a tad suspicious about them myself, until I got my first e-reader and realised how wonderful they were. No longer do I have to weigh down my suitcase with half a dozen books when I go on holiday for two weeks – all I need is my Kindle, and I have all the books I want. If I finish reading a book on the way into work, I don’t have to lug another around another for the journey home, I just open up another book on the Kindle. My handbag is much lighter with the Kindle in, instead of a paper book. I am someone who has a book with her at all times, no matter where she is going. And a Kindle is so much easier to transport. It will practically fit into a pocket.

My e-reader has also allowed me to buy more books.  I browse the 99p books in the Kindle e-book store almost daily.  Quite often if I am intrigued by a book’s cover and blurb I will decide to take a chance on it because it’s not a lot of money to part with, and it might lead me to discover a wonderful new author.  One click is all it takes to buy that book and transfer it to my Kindle.  It’s ready to begin reading mere seconds later.  And best of all, I don’t have to find shelf space for all these new books because they don’t take up physical space.

Yet in spite of this, I haven’t stopped buying paper books. I will go to signing sessions and buy hardbacks. I will browse second hand book shops and buy books that take my fancy. I still browse book shops, heaven forbid, and take a punt on a new author’s paperback simply because the cover and blurb on the back attract me. And I don’t think this will ever change.

As a lover of books in all formats, it worries me there’s still some resistance to e-books – occasionally even from publishers, though this is getting better. Only this morning I was reading an article in the news stating that e-book sales are predicted to overtake paper book sales in the UK by 2018.  And a spokesperson for a particular publisher was quoted about how e-books have revitalised the book market, with the technology to make e-books available on tablets and so forth making reading accessible to people who never used to be book buyers.

I’m not someone who gives books to charity shops when she’s re-read them.  Maybe this is a selfish attitude, but I like to have books available to re-read at a future date.  Going back to a favourite book is like visiting an old friend you haven’t seen in a while.  Hardbacks do make this a bit problematic, though, when most of my reading is done on the move.  I’m in the process of re-reading Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski books, and the next book on the list is BODY WORK. My copy of this is a hardback, signed to me personally by Sara because I met the great lady herself at the UK launch for this book. And as she is one of my favourite authors of all time, I will treasure it. Having paid £15 for this signed copy, I don’t particularly want to have it bashed about in my bag on the train, or dropped in the bath, or whatever. Ideally I’d like to keep the hardback on the shelf and have a electronic version to re-read, but this would mean having to pay for a second copy of a book I already legitimately own.

I’m sure I’m not the only reader out there who likes to have shelves surrounded by books, whilst enjoying the convenience that an e-reader brings to the reading experience.  I’d like to see publishers bundling a free e-book version of a novel with every hardback edition sold.  That would certainly encourage me to buy more hardbacks to fill up my bookshelves at home, and I’d still get to enjoy the convenience of my e-reader on my daily commute.

A few years ago there seemed to be much suspicion in the publishing world, and a widely held view that e-books would see the end of paper books.  I maintained then, and still maintain now, that there is room in the world for e-books and paper books to exist together, and there does seem to be more people acknowledging this now.  But there’s still a way to go before e-books and paperbacks are truly equal.

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2 comments so far

  1. Anne Skalitza on

    I love my ereader and the fact that I can read it at night without a booklite. But I also still cherish my hardcopies, like I cherished my stuffed animals as a child. They are time-worn and have that “much loved” look. Something you can’t have with an ebook.

    • sayssara on

      That’s true, Anne, and that’s why I think there is room for both format!

      Thanks for commenting.


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