|e-book or printed?|
I was surprised that she felt this need to differentiate in this way. She has, by the way, been published in both formats and is working now on something that will go straight to e-book, so we are not talking Luddite or literary snob.
I went off to think about my own Kindle reading and consider if in any instance the e-format had detracted from my enjoyment or understanding. With my hand on my heart I can say that my answer is a resounding ‘no’. I have read all kinds of things on Kindle and with the exception of some practical handbooks (which I was just too mean to buy in print!) I had no problem with any of them, including Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which is a whopper of a book, and an illustrated non-fiction monograph which I intended to buy in print but ordered on Kindle by mistake and to my own surprise did not regret it.
The whole idea of e-books being somehow less worthy comes up in research suggesting that e-reading impacts less deeply on our understanding and emotions than reading a print book, i.e. you would not e-read a book that you want to stay with you or that demands particular concentration. Well it’s hard to say if this applies to me, but what I can say is that I don’t retain the detail of books for as long as I would like or expect to but that this applies equally to all books whether in print or on an e-reader. And tell it to my fellow students on the Bath Spa MA who look very attached to their e-readers and presumably hope to retain their reading for quite some time.
When the conversation with the novelist moved into a wider circle there were the usual comments about the difficulties of ‘flicking back’ in an e-book. To some extent I agree with this, but then I’m not much of a flicker-backer. If I can’t understand what’s going on as it happens on the page, I’m likely to get frustrated and give up anyway. Nor do I like a book that assumes I’m going to refer regularly to a family tree, a map or whatever. But actually, a decent e-book (publishers please note!) should have a hyperlinked contents page and is always searchable, so I would have thought that the process of looking stuff up, although different, is perfectly possible. And in non-fiction, dealing with footnotes is actually much slicker in an e-book where they are hyperlinked. (No flicking or marking of pages required!)
Every format has advantage and disadvantages. I never buy fiction in hardback but I prefer hardback cookery books. I love the portability of e-books but will occasionally buy a hard copy of a book I particularly love simply to be able to hold it in my hand. A printed book, as someone has observed, is a souvenir of itself. So the last thing I’m suggesting is that e-books should take over the world. But it’s about choice. The e-format has extended that choice and brought more books to more people and has very little to prove. There are some minor snags, but for me they have been less significant than I expected and are far outweighed by the flexibility and portability of the medium. I don’t see any reason for e-books to be the second class citizens of the literary world.