It’s scary out there. The apocalypse is upon us, and I’m not talking about Superstorm Sandy. The existence of the human race hangs by a thread of organic matter because the e-book is no longer a dystopian vision of the future. It’s HERE! It’s REAL! It will devour you from the inside out and transform you into… into… someone dependent on yet another gadget! The days of paper and print are over, dead, finished, kaput, erased! Excuse me for a moment while I shriek in ghastly terror.
OK, now I’ve got the terror thing off my chest, let’s get sensible.
Books are stories, and stories are about as far from physical as you can get. If you want to commit stories to something more solid than the air from which you have pulled them, then words are still black things on a white background, whether electronic or the pulp from a dead tree. E-jokes or inky ones have an equal power to make you laugh, or perhaps just wonder how that author ever got a deal creating jokes as bad as the one you’ve just read. Self-publishing has got easier, fulfilling long-held dreams and occasionally making money. Why the fear?
I went to a lovely party at the local Waterstones last Friday, celebrating a recent deal with Amazon whereby they can sell Kindles alongside what might be coyly termed ‘real’ books. The shop looked great. Inviting, varied, exciting. Rainbows of titles on the shelves, canapes from Waitrose, Rosamund Lupton to talk to, a quietly investigative Kindle corner. The only thing missing was a large sofa into which one might sink while perusing Nigellissima in hardback form. What is there to be scared of, apart from a hole in your purse from spending too much on words in their endless lovely forms? Better that than an ill-advised pair of shoes at ten times the price. (Ehem.)
There is still plenty of room in the world for the physicality of books. Their smell, weightiness and colour; their paper silky or textured; the delicious crunch as you open up the spine for the first time. (I believe orthopaedic surgeons feel much the same about that last one.) So stop screaming, people. Make room for books on your shelves and an e-reader in your pocket. Buy two editions of the stuff that you like: the e-version and the paperback. That’s TWICE as many stories out there as before. And that’s not scary at all.