Technically, it’s impossible to kill the book. Not only because books aren’t actually sentient living beings (however much they may appear to be at times), but also because it’s abundantly clear that people are going to be reading books – in whatever form they choose – until the end of time.
An e-book is still a book; it loses none of its bookiness through being wafted in front of our peepers on a screen instead of a wedge of paper. Anna Karenina will still chuck herself under the train at the end, Frodo Baggins will still sail into the West, Cassandra Mortmain will still fill the margin with ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’
Roobla Sports Editor Fred Asquith also extolled some of the unique educational virtues of the e-reader recently on this very website.
Ah, but what people mean when they say that the Kindle and its ilk have killed the book is not that the novel, the essays, the poems themselves are damaged, but that the actual physical object, the ink and paper sandwich, is threatened with extinction.
Nobody wants to be carrying half a tree around in their satchel when they could be carrying one slim line piece of handheld tech, and actually have access to more books – even ALL the books – while they’re at it. Which has prompted many to bemoan the fate of the good old fashioned paperback, to contest that a book does indeed lose its bookiness when you can’t rifle the pages, crack the spine, even press your nose into the papyrus and take a good long sniff of the tree pulp of decades past.
It’s the tangible, palpable, sensory experience of a book that these people are worried about losing. This being the case, it seems that we should actually be thanking the e-reader. Its continuing rise to glory has far from ensured the demise of the paper book; in fact, it has caused the paper book to crank up its game. Big time.
Anyone who frequents Waterstones on a semi-regular basis to see if anything decent has popped up in the three-for-twos will have noticed that today’s books are working a lot harder to grab our attention. It’s no longer enough to stamp some crudely formatted paragraphs onto some cheap, questionably sourced paper, wrap them in a luridly glossy covering and then expect the buyer to be damn grateful for the opportunity. After all, if we wanted a pared down edition we’d buy it on the bloody e-reader.
Books have always been objects of beauty in and of themselves, but let’s be honest – in recent years corners have been very much cut, and some editions are far more beautiful than others. These days, with e-reader versions being cheaper, quicker to obtain, and easier to carry, every new paper book release has to bring some serious aesthetic quality to the table, and many of them rise admirably to the challenge.
Take this edition of George Orwell’s classic 1984, for instance. The novel is set in a totalitarian dystopia where even people’s thoughts are subject to control and censorship, hence this clever take on the classic penguin book format with the title and author themselves almost completely blacked out.
Here’s a slightly less unnerving example: Jemima Catlin’s new illustrated edition of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Obviously the illustrations themselves are lovely, but they have been used to great effect here on the cover. The images are sprinkled with gold-leaf style detailing, and make clever use of the spine of the book, turning it into a tree.
Not all paper books are heading down the route of clever covers and high quality parchment, but it’s certainly a growing trend. The advent of the e-reader has, rather than annihilating the paper book, forced it to re-examine itself, to re-discover what makes it unique as a medium and, ultimately, helped to create better quality books. We may not ever quite get back to the days of gilded pages and illuminated calligraphy, but it’s certainly a start.