eBooks – the bane and the beauty

Well, the day is upon us. Has been for a while now and I’m a bit late to the party, but I thought it was finally about time I commented on this, as I have recently utilised the use of iBooks on my iPhone.

I remember once reading in a science fiction novel, no more than 10 years ago, about people in a futuristic age who read books off a screen and found it funny to discover an actual book with pages that were faded and binding that was falling apart.

My eyes watered at the beauty of the thought – of the real book, of course. Call me a real neurotic, old-fashioned, boring library-type, but oh boy, there’s nothing that can beat the experience of seeing a bunch of old books stacked on shelves ready for perusal. In my opinion, the more they are falling apart, the better. I don’t care if the book is an old thesis on some biochemical specialist subject matter – I want to read it. Sometimes I just sit down and pick up a book for the pleasure of holding something in my hands which I know will go with me over time and will age with me. I can pick it up again years later, with its yellowing pages, and dusty smell, and I can reminisce, and possibly enjoy it all over again if I wish. The experience is both new and old.

So it was with slight personal chagrin that, upon discovering that iBooks was now a part of the new iOS update, I decided to try one or two things out. I downloaded a book preview. And later, when thoroughly captivated by the recent BBC televsion series adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, I searched for that and found a free, and of course instantly downloadable, ‘volume’ of collected stories that I could read. It was a good deal, I couldn’t refuse.

And it is with somewhat more surprise that I have found myself avidly turning pages in the…iBook…of Sherlock Holmes stories. Of course this is in large part due to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But I’m obviously not as turned off by the format of the iBook as I thought I might be.

I mean, it definitely has its drawbacks. Note makers like me have an instant problem. The bookmark, though present, isn’t tangible and therefore you can’t FEEL where you are. The small screen size means you’re flipping pages at probably over one a minute. And if you can’t remember a detail and want to flip back to find it out, it involves a lot of page-swiping, because that’s what you’re used to, and there are far more pages that it could be on. It’s also not such a tactile experience. That’s important, for many of us book-lovers! I mean, sure, it’s sensory, but not as much, and you’re focussed on a device that if you’re anything like me, you could have been spending much of the rest of the day looking at as well. It’s no change of scene.

Still, I can’t help but admit that it hasn’t been unenjoyable to whip out a quick bit of Sherlock, even and especially at times when I can’t get my hand on any other book. And I suppose, at the end of the day, what it might be best for is that kind of thing. I should imagine it would function well as a paper-saver for those trashy tube train novels that everyone likes to read.

But as for the REAL books – the good stuff – the meaty, proper  books: I’m keeping my real, wooden bookshelves for those. There’s nothing like being able to peruse your bookshelf in search of something you read a couple of years ago, pick it out, flip through it, and find it again. Do that on a phone? Nah. No charm in that.

And, I get the feeling, or maybe it’s just a vain hope, that there are enough old-fashioned types like me out there to keep our beloved real books alive. The eBook is here, but I think it will have a bigger fight to come if it wants to dominate and become the predominant means of reading in everyday peoples’ lives.

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