Many of my friends assume I will be dead against the e-reader. Understandable given the fact that every room in my house is full of piles of books. I love to be surrounded by the printed book. They are my favourite way to decorate a room; I love the way they smell (I have been severely disapproved of in at least two major stately homes when caught errant book-sniffing.) As an aside, if you’re interested, my extensive research to date concludes that old Robert Louis Stevensons are the best smelling books of all.
We live in a small house but we have a library (sort of). One wall of our already pretty bijou lounge has been given over to floor to ceiling bookcases, and yes – joy of joys – a slidey ladder. So, to me and my daughter, these are more than mere ‘shelves’. This is our library. I love it so much. When passing through sometimes I will peruse the shelves, choose a book at random and read a couple of paragraphs. And sometimes I just like to gaze at it lovingly for a while.
But the truth is that while all this is wonderful, it is not the point. The point is the joy of reading stories. However that is accomplished. And through whatever medium.
So, in reality I have never been against the e-reader. It is just than given the fact that I have more books than I know what to do with, and a to read pile that is more like a to read house-full, I haven’t needed one.
But this summer our holiday involved travelling by train from Sheffield to Zagreb, and carrying everything we needed for a family of four for two and a half weeks in two rucksacks. And I take an average of three books with me if I go away for a weekend.
So, I bought a kindle. New, but bottom of the range. I was excited but unsure about this commitment to a whole long holiday together. I suspected I might suffer withdrawal symptoms from actual real pages by Zurich, and have to seek out an English language bookshop. But I gave it a go.
I needn’t have worried. I have fallen head over heels in love with this little device.
Firstly, it provided a delicious opportunity to buy some new books to read whilst away. I immediately bought a Helen Oyeyemi and a Marlon James – two writers who have blown me away recently, but the book-buying ban had prevented me from buying their entire back catalogue as I wanted to.
And when these two were finished (surprisingly quickly) the kindle opened up a new and exciting way of choosing and trying books.
I love that I could be sitting in the sunshine browsing twitter miles from the nearest bookshop one minute, spot a book I like the look of, and then be reading it the next. Without moving a muscle except to press a few buttons on my screen (and maybe take a couple of sips of the ice cold beer at my elbow.) Even better still, I could download the first 25 pages free to read and make up my mind about whether this is my cup of tea or not.
I love the way that I have a whole world of books quite literally at my fingertips. When in Hungary, I thought “Ooo I’d like to read something by a Hungarian writer” so I did a few searches for local literary talent, and downloaded The Door by Magda Szabo five minutes later. The 25 page sample is brilliant, because there is no commitment to having a crack at it. And I ended up enjoying the book hugely.
As a spreadsheet, let’s categorise and quantify everything geek, I like the way it tells you what percentage of the way through the book you are. This is also useful for knowing how close you are to running out of reading material.
I love that when my son got fed up of The Night Pirates, Hamish The Highland Cow, and On The Way Home (the only three of his books we took with us) twelve times a day, we could download new books for him, including pictures. (Actually, it’s not true that he got fed up of them. He could listen to On The Way Home, possibly my least favourite children’s book of all time, a hundred times a day and not get bored it would seem. But I was crying out for some variety!)
The sample option is great, not only to get a flavour of whether I will enjoy a book, but also to act as a reminder of books I’d like to read. (Obviously that is what I need, another to read list). I like book bloggers’ listicles on their favourite books around themes (I should do some of these). So, for example, reading this post on books set around the jazz age, which all sound great – I downloaded the samples to remind me that these books sound like they’re right up my street. https://theliterarysisters.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/the-jazz-age-in-literature/comment-page-1/#comment-5155
I have, predictably, now ended up with (an admittedly much smaller scale version of) the same problem I have at my house. Loads to read. And now we’re back and I’m reunited with my heaving library it’s not like I even need them anymore. Ah well.
I did find that it is not as easy to navigate around a book on a kindle. When you want to check back to what happened earlier in the story, how he was related to her, or what she previously said about where she was that evening, you can’t flick back and have a quick look so easily.
And it’s not ideal that the device doesn’t download your books until you open them. When WiFi-less, even if you’ve bought something, if you haven’t previously opened it then you can’t get to it.
This gave me a horrifying glimpse one day of the opposite problem to the predicament behind Murder Underground Broke The Camel’s Back. Initially, I was trying to be sensible and frugal with book buying on the kindle, and had only bought those two books. I knew my husband had previously downloaded some old classics, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Three Musketeers (all the free ones, he is tight) onto his phone with the kindle account we share, so I thought I had those as back up.
We went to stay somewhere for three days with no WiFi. I hadn’t been well and needed to rest. So, lots of time where my husband took the children out and about, and I could read with my feet up. On the first day there I finished the Oyeyemi, and realised the James was short. And that none of the other books were there because I hadn’t opened them before we reached the WiFi-less land. Aaaaaarrgghh.
The thought of running out of books to read, whilst having time by myself to relax, was surprisingly alarming. I found it almost panic-inducing. In the end I took a gentle stroll to a hotel with WiFi and nice coffee, and immediately downloaded four more books. Disaster averted. And actually no drama at all. But that glimpse into the opposite problem made me so very grateful for the one I have. It may stress me out that I have all these books, and I don’t feel I’m giving them the attention they deserve. But for those few hours I saw a life with time to read, and no books. And it was bad.
So, there were no emergency trips to bookshops, and I ended up reading six and a half books on my kindle this holiday. It was wonderful. I became so used to it that since picking up paper books again I have found myself tapping on the pages before I realise I have to suffer to inconvenience of turning them for myself.
Now all they need to do is make an e-reader infused with the smell of an old Robert Louis Stevenson, and my conversion will be complete.