Christmas is a time of plenty – more sleep, more food, and more TV Christmas specials than are good for one’s health. It’s also a wonderful time to be immersed in an abundance of books, those tomes you’ve been meaning to devour all year.
I wanted to finish The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, read The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Stuart Macbride’s Birthdays For The Dead, Conquest by Stewart Binns, Pd James’ Death Comes To Pemberley and our very own Jonny by Jonny Wilkinson. It was an eclectic list but what they all had in common was that they were hardbacks and stonkingly heavy.
I love hardbacks, their texture, weight, binding, head and tail bands, coloured boards, exotic end pages – they are objects of beauty. The first editions can be signed and cherished as limited editions and displayed on shelves as small segments of one’s inner autobiography.
But they weigh a ton, like carrying a bag full of house bricks. So this year I downloaded them as ebooks onto my ipad, tentatively at first as if I was committing a biblical sin, but then with increasing relish as they floated into my ibook library as simply and easily as breathing.
I have crossed the line and I don’t feel very good about it. My ipad is a little bulky but it carries the universe. Wherever I go there’s a stock of rich narrative at my fingertips. It’s as seductive as Christmas morning used to be, a bulging stocking, a pyramid of presents under the tree. My ibook library looks like a row of jewels, each book side by side in colourful miniature, compressed with intention and promise.
The ebooks are so much easier to read, no broken spines, heft on your knees as you read in bed, straining not to crease the pages. The backlight on the Ipad can wither the eyes in the dark but reading first thing in the morning, in bed, on holiday, is like the sun has just risen.
A part of me feels regret that technology has replaced simple pleasures. But like childhood, you sometimes have to say goodbye to things that used to matter. However, I’ve not abandoned the hardback, in fact I tend to buy two editions of any novel I love. I’ll purchase the hardback as a first edition, shelve it and read the ebook. As for Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, things got out of hand. I bought the UK and US hardback and the ebook, a triple whammy of indulgence.
I’m sure my book buying is not typical, but maybe the hardback will survive the electronic onslaught if my peculiar book purchase habit is adopted by many. And perhaps, as the memory of Christmas excess recedes, ebooks will grow the book market, converting new readers through ease of access and range of choice, drawing more people into the endless and unique world of storytelling pleasures. Is this the beginning of a golden age of reading?
Posted by Martin Fletcher, Editorial