Friday, 5 March 2010

Books and e-books

I am fascinated (and tempted) by the kindle and its friends, and maybe one day I'll succumb (if I can afford one). But as a writer, I feel very ambivalent about e-books. When I've written a book, one of the great pleasures for me is being able to stand back and look at it, or just hold it, handle it, feel its realness. I suppose it's a bit like doing a painting or making a sculpture (I'd be useless at either of these, so I can only guess), or even having a baby. It's the feeling of having created something which stands on its own; something apart from me. Something physical. It's not a pride thing; more a creative-satisfaction thing.

So while I'd be pleased if anyone wanted my books as e-books, it wouldn't be the same. And if my books could only be published as e-books, I'm not sure I'd feel the same about writing them.


  1. Interesting thought but I am thinking I should not thinking about myself holding them but that they are being's a whole change in mindset and I'm not there yet but I'm trying to get there :-)

  2. I must admit I blow very hot and cold about e-books. In fact, I think I'll put up something on my own blog about it, so thanks for the spur!

  3. Liz - nice to hear from you. You're right. I think being read is a given, and it's the reason why any of us write at all. But the physical presence of books is very important to me (and I guess, to a lot of people, both as readers and writers).

    Hi Alis. I'll be interested to know what you have to say on your blog. I suppose one huge (and obvious) plus for the e-book is holidays. Our luggage always weighs a ton simply because of the books we take with us. An e-book would solve that (unless we were to lose it - that would be a disaster!).

  4. As a not-quite-published writer, the urge to see my book in a physical form is really strong! I suppose it is evidence of all my hard work in a visible tactile form.In the same way as I am slightly disappointed if someone gives me tokens instead of a gift, despite the fact I can use those tokens the physicality of the gift is very important. And I am a person for whom a book is also a symbol of the bigger worlds within.Surprisingly, for someone who inhabits an imaginary world much of the time,I am much less at home with the virtual world of e-books, magazines, and poetry. I confess, I never read much online except my own stuff and the occasional blog.

  5. Thanks for visiting my "occasional blog", Dee. I'm glad you agree with me about the physical nature of books. There's also the pleasure of revisiting old books - remembering where you read them (not to mention when and where you spilt that drop of red wine...), and of course lending them to other people.

  6. We have roughly 5,000 books in our house. And we move often, so I can tell you that this is somewhere between 200 and 300 boxes of books.

    And I love them all dearly, but they are also an albatross around my neck. Were it not for our books, we could live in a much smaller house.

    But the idea that all of that could someday fit onto a small silicon wafer of some sort--and, incidentally, that the hypothetical silicon wafers could be obliterated--well, that makes me uneasy. At least the Nazi bookburnings required gathering them all up and making huge bonfires. It worries me that the bookburners of the future might have more efficient and irrevocable means.

    And, furthermore, when I look at all our books, I feel good in a way that scrolling through a list of titles would mever achieve.

  7. David - we're in a similar position, and I even find it hard to get rid of the books I didn't enjoy (heaven knows why). But I am coming round to thinking that there is room for e-books as well, for all the reasons given on this blog and on Alis's. I'm sure that 'real' books will never die out, but I'm also pretty sure that e-books are here to stay, and will (I hope) co-exist peacefully.

  8. Hi Frances
    I remember having this same conversation with two editors from Hachete Livre last September who were mourning the death of the printed word. In the end I convinced them it wouldn't happen. I mean, how can ebooks compete?

    But having experienced the best and worst of e-reading I'm not so sure now...

  9. Hi Matt. We were discussing e-books again today, especially apropos our holiday; ie do we take a suitcase full of books, or two dandy little electronic devices? The first opton is very heavy, and the second, extremely expensive.

    We've decided to hold fire until the price of e-books comes down a bit, and load up that suitcase. In the meantime, I cannot imagine a life without real books, and neither can most of the people I know. There just has to be room for both. I hope.