My friends, family and colleagues fervently remind me, that in most technological spheres, I am at the same level as an elderly man. I still send letters by post, I don’t understand snapchat, I still sustain that music sounds better on vinyl, and it was only yesterday that someone told me what Whatsapp is. After arguing on these subjects, I am usually quite happy to be branded a neo-luddite, and to carry on in my technological naivety. But there is one advance which upon which I cannot stay silent: The Kindle or e-book reader.
My major qualm is simply that these devices dehumanize an act of leisure, which has been passed on for thousands and thousands of years. Every tatty paperback tells two stories; that which the author wrote, and one which time has written on the pages through those who have read it.
For example, my copy of “Orlando” is covered in underlinings written by myself a long time ago. A friend recently consulted me on these annotations, and I failed to remember the meaning behind any, save for those simply indicating Woolf’s glorious turns of phrase. The pages of this volume felt lived in. It had been turned inside out, and my question is whether an e-book ever earns the same treatment.
Furthermore while leafing through novels in research of this essay, I found a variety of bookmarks tucked in the back covers, which evoked remarkably strong emotions. A train ticket to visit a long lost lover, a receipt from a bar on Lake Como visited many years ago, and a street map of Marrakech were found, amongst many others. EBooks just remember at what point you were, they do not say anything about what was going on in your life while you were reading, and I consider that a pity.
Another failing of modern reading technology is that it cannot be lent to a fellow enthusiast. Many friendships of mine have been built upon the love of Hemingway or Fitzgerald, yet without loaning these books to the aforementioned camarades, no such friendship would exist. Admittedly, every now and then, one of my books is returned having been dropped in the bath, or with sand between the pages, but this only serves to further the story told by the pages.
I suppose my argument is based essentially on romanticism, which rarely stands up against logic, but on this point I am adamant. From the sound of my Grandad turning the weathered pages of “Wind in the Willows”, to jamming a scruffy copy of “Down and Out in Paris and London” into my coat pocket to avoid extra baggage charges at an airport, books in their physical form are part of human history. As technology constantly sterilizes and dehumanizes our culture, I say stand strong by the format which has always been there for you, even on the rainiest of holidays, and never lets you down by running out of batteries: Long Live the Paperback!