On other seasons, and the countryside, and our lives as part of one grand picture, he has no equal. But his thoughts on e-readers I found a little disappointing. These are just the sentiments that everybody else expresses:
“I have been reading a lot on my iPad recently, and I have some complaints — not about the iPad but about the state of digital reading generally. Reading is a subtle thing, and its subtleties are artifacts of a venerable medium: words printed in ink on paper. Glass and pixels aren’t the same.”So many people are getting defensive about e-readers. It’s like a child screeching, "But I don't LIKE the new thing. I want the OLD thing." But nobody has said ebooks are here to do away with print books. They're an extra thing, a new variation, not a replacement. They surely will replace some books - disposable thrillers, for example, where all you're buying is the story. But for those who want a beautiful print edition of a fine book, you'll still be able to get those. No need to fret yet.
Ebooks will diverge from print books. They may complement the print edition. A book about great battles of the world could have interactive maps of the battlefield, for example. Clearly in many cases of nonfiction, the ebooks will be better.
Every reactionary opinion focuses only on how ebooks fail to do what print books do. But what about the things they do that traditional books don't? The ways they are better? Not crowding you out of house and home, for example! Any time a new technology comes along, it will do things differently from the technology that went before. That doesn't make it bad. Just different.
If you look at literary forums about e-readers, most comments focus on the negative. "Oh, but I like the fusty old smell of my books." "You can't give e-books as gifts." "What about reading in the bath/pool?" (Who the hell does?) "If I lose my e-reader I'm going to lose my entire library." (No you're not.) "I can't make notes in them." (Who said?) "But they just aren't as nice to fondle as my books... it's the end of the world... the barbarians are at the gates, wail, gnash."
Mr Klinkenborg is far better informed than that. But in his New York Times article he does express concern about not being able to lend ebooks, not being able to have libraries, and so on. To those who feel this way I would say, "Fer Chrissakes, the iBookstore has only been going a couple months! Give it a freakin' chance!" If people want to lend ebooks, that'll come. An online library where you get the book for a month? Sure, if enough people want it, you’ll get it. No need to look for things to gripe about.
And what about the good things that will come as a result of epublishing? More books will see the light of day, because publishers no longer need to be convinced that 1000 people will buy it in Chicago, 1500 in New York and so on. As long as an ebook justifies the cost of writing and illustration (largely undertaken at the authors' risk even now) it can be published. Online it will find its readers wherever they may be. Think of how often a book has failed because of the print medium. Good books been sent in the wrong quantities to the wrong places, then remaindered and pulped - not because there weren't readers out there for them, but because the print distribution system didn't get the book to the right places.
And then there's self-publishing. Peter Richardson on Cloud 109 has been discussing the problems of getting new ideas past the marketing people. Jon Higham’s Elly books have now appeared in the App Store and are doing very well. We hope to have Mirabilis in the App Store soon. This is a glorious dawn for authors. It might even turn out to be rather good for publishers too - at least those, like Nosy Crow, that are willing and able to evolve.
As for the reading experience on iPad... Well, comics and magazines are just better, no question. As for books, I am of that generation that loves the feel and aroma of books. My senses quicken as I enter a secondhand bookstore. But we're going to die out. No use crying about it, it's the USP of the human race: forever reshaping our relationship with the world around us. Future generations will find other things to love. It won't mean they're soulless or can't appreciate the beauty of a book, but they'll find that beauty in other ways. Heaven knows, they might even start to pay a little more attention to the text.
Mr Klinkenborg writes, as I say, beautifully. His insights have often brought my brain to a full stop as I rearrange my thinking in response. But comments like this on ebooks and e-readers are all too common among book lovers. They depress me because they seem to be drawing up lines for a war we don’t have to fight. There are few enough folks who read books in the world today. The barbarians aren't at the gates, they're plonked in front of network TV and texting their friends while listening to a greatest hits playlist at the same time. So let’s not have a schism between the print book cultists and the worshippers at the iShrine. Let's just support books in all of their forms.
"Due attention to the inside of books, and due contempt for the outside, is the proper relation between a man of sense and his library."
- Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield