Monday, 10 October 2011

Kindle and the bookshelf

Nigel Farndale looks at the Kindle and worries about its impact on the traditional bookshelf.

Barring the car exploding, I'm getting a Kindle in a couple of weeks (I haven't before because I'm cheap) and I've been thinking along the same lines.  My conclusion:  Predictions to the contrary, I don't see ebooks pushing proper books to extinction or even close.  Books have too many advantages over ebooks.  They are format-free; don't need electricity; if properly made, they last nearly forever and with a cheap paperback you don't get too upset if you drop it in the bath.  

That being said, I'm not such a Luddite that I reject ebooks.  In fact, I think they're brilliant.  Before the Internet came along, wherever I lived looked like a secondhand book shop had burst its seams.  I'm one of those people who is forever looking up obscure facts at 2 AM and that meant having an extensive library–even if nine-tenths of its contents were ratty old volumes that smelled of attics and barns.  Then came the Internet and I found that I could eliminate half the collection without any pain at all.  I wanted the population of Peru?  Just look it up on the computer.  Needed a quote from Emerson?  Ditto.  

When ebooks came along a couple of years ago, I got rid of 90 percent of my books because they were all things I'd read, things I kept around just in case I needed a fact out of them, and the sort of tomes that squeeze in through worm holes in space caused by having too many books in one place.  Now, my library consists of books I need for my work, those that have sentimental value (Grays Anatomy, how would I have got through med school without you?), those I like the bindings of (And yes, I've read them), those that I find I can look things up in easier if they're hard copies (Bible, Roget's Thesaurus), those that were trophies of protracted hunts through the warrens of Oxford Covered Market, and those I haven't read yet (recorded on spreadsheet, so I don't forget).  

The only drawback of this system is that reading ebooks means sitting at my desk or balancing the netbook on my lap.  The former is too much like working and the latter is uncomfortable and completely impractical in a car or aeroplane.  So, the Kindle, which means I can now do for books what my ipod did for my music.  As for Farndale's fear of not being able to scan his shelves, I can still do that, but what I see up there is what I really want rather than what I can't convince myself to part with because I don't have to part if I don't want to. 

Now if I can only get a default screensaver for it that says "Don't panic" in large, friendly letters.

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