Slowly, but surely, e-books are becoming a fixture in my reading life. I’m not particularly wedded to hardcopy, paper books – I’m used to reading electronically – but a physical book is more convenient to pick up and more pleasant to hold... but, but, but. The advantages stood out like a sore thumb on my recent trip to the States. Instead of carting around one or more books to read, I had half a library’s worth in electronic form. That 700+ page door stopper of Justin Cronin’s (The Passage – fantastic read) wasn’t weighing down my hand luggage, I read it on the screen. Reading China Mieville’s The City and the City meant I didn’t have to reach for a dictionary for all those words I don’t know, I just highlight with a tap and the e-dictionary tells me the meaning. Bored, and look for another book, I just browse through genres, categories, authors and find books to sample instantly. If I like it, and the price is right, I might buy then and there.
Contrast this with books I have bought in physical form recently, and I am completely in love with sampling. Any chance I have to avoid shelling out $20 for a novel that just doesn’t hold me past page three, or page fifty, is money saved, paper saved, shelf-space saved.
I had many discussions with friends in the States about e-books, and their disbelief that it could ever replace paper books, and was generally playing devil’s advocate, but more and more I was advocating my own opinion that e-books are an overwhelmingly positive phenomenon for readers and authors. With them, authors can potentially make a reasonable living and control their own creative brand. With them, readers can sample books, enjoy their choices at a much reduced price, have the convenience of a virtual library in their bag, buy books anytime and anywhere there is an internet connection. The main downside is the loss of a physical object, the tactile pleasure of holding a book, turning pages, smelling the paper and ink, running your fingers over a glossy cover. But paper books won’t disappear. Vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs are all still with us. Paper books may be marginalised to collector’s items, or speciality goods or a reduced niche market for holdouts, but they’ll always be around. If there is a quality version of a book I love, I’ll buy it.
David Cornish has written three volumes of his YA fiction “The Monster Blood Tattoo” series and his publisher has a hardcover version complete with additional illustrations (by the author), attached ribbon book-marks and expanded appendices. A beautiful package and well worth the few extra dollars. This type of book-as-artifact product will always sit on my book shelf. The rest will likely be a mixture of cheap imports from The Book Depository and e-books sitting on my reader.