Friday, December 10, 2010

Thechno enthusiasm

I like books. I like their feel, durability and above all their resilience to clumsiness, irritation, scribbled pencil notes and the like. I really like those special ones, the ones with a dedication written by a friend, or even by the author, on the fly leaf. They are more than books; they are possessions. But if anything was to tempt me into getting a Kindle, it is this piece from an eighty-something writer and academic. Ruth Klüger concludes her defence beautifully.
The medium is the message? No (sic) at all. The real thing is the alphabet, the written word. That is what we mean when we say "book". In this sense we can indeed predict a long and glorious future for the book in its many shapes and metamorphoses.


mikeovswinton, watcha doin? said...

Sorry Pete, on ABE or even Messrs Amazon and Sons £109 can buy you enough wooden books to last quite a long time.(At the moment a lot of techies are going at the princely sum of £0.01p.) And I can scribble in the margins to my heart's content when the writers are talking cobblers. And your 80 year old might wish to reflect that McLuhan was well aware of the importance of the alphabet - check out his reading of the myth of the sowing of the dragon's teeth.

Graeme said...

And that £109 worth of paper books isn't going to have a massive hardware failing causing them to be unusable within the next five years or whatever the expected lifespan of one of those devices is.

Anonymous said...

I am on the fence over e-readers; I can appreciate their utility but I just cant focus on an electronic screen the same way I can with a paper book.

George S said...

e-Books are all right for short texts, but they are tough on the eyes for longer things, don't you think?

This is from a house so crawling with books that the idea of possibly housing seven at a stroke is quite enticing.

I quite like the idea of books as free objects moving between those who value them so don't get too possessive (meaning I have lost a good number this way) - unless they are dedicated or sent by friends.

Graeme said...

I recieved one of these for Christmas and despite my reservations, I actually really like it. Granted, I've only been using it for a day so far and haven't done any serious reading on it (either in terms of duration or content--the only thing I have on it at the moment is an omnibus of Robert E Howard's Conan stories) but it works well and it's comfortable to read with. It's about the size of a trade paperback, though much thinner, the screen is great with about the right amount of contrast, and it's completely silent. I don't quite forget that I'm using an extremely sophisticated piece of technology, but maybe with familiarity that sense will diminish. I think it will be great for travelling. I always bring more books with me than I need because I hate the idea of running out of books and so having those books, including travel guides, on one single unit--that's great. My wife also recieved one and she's an academic so she figures that it will be great for work because she can load pdfs of papers on to it and read them wherever.

Actually, the travel guides seemed really well done from the sample of a Lonely Planet France book I downloaded. You get the usual travel book stuff, but the links in it are clickable, so you can go to a website to check the weather, or the current road conditions, or if there will be flight delays, or anything else you can use the internet for. Very handy, that.

The model that I have (an Amazon Kindle, though I don't know exactly what model) allows you to annotate the text, so while it's not the same as scribbling in the margins, you can do as close to an approximation of that as is possible given the technology. I haven't tried that yet though so I don't know how well it's implemented.

The reservations I have left about it are more to do with what this all means. George is absolutely right about books as "free objects" and I don't like that if I buy a book for my Kindle and want to recommend it to friends, that I can't just hand them the book or electronically transfer the book to their machine. They will have to buy a copy for themselves. I can't resell my books to a second-hand bookstore. I don't think this is a particularly welcome development.

The Plump said...

And me too - similarly impressed. Especially all those free and very cheap downloads of classics. The complete Oscar Wilde for 75p, Vanity Fair for nothing.

It isn't a replacement for the book, but it is quite a supplement.

Graeme said...

Oooh, nice one spotting the free titles. I hadn't come across those yet. And yes, this thing is going to be fantastic for catching up on classics I haven't yet read. At the prices they're going for, it will be far cheaper to read them electronically than it would be to pick up a second-hand copy of the books.