Sunday, October 11, 2009


Nicholson Baker may not be the greatest novelist in the world. He’s certainly better than me. I’ve never bothered.

But by God his choice of reading is dreadful.

He wrote a piece recently in the Guardian about eBooks and that.

He didn’t go so far as to say that the complete digitization of all literature would be good or bad, he just described his experience of the new methods of reading novels. Digitally. If one felt so disposed. On a screen. A screen that only Amazon would sell you, and only Amazon would supply content for.

This screen would allow you to download any novel you fancied – so long as Amazon stocked it – anywhere you liked. Anywhere with a broadband connection. Or free wi-fi.

I’m not as widely read as Nicholson Baker (he seems rather fond of ‘thrillers’) but here’s some of my experiences of books:

1) A paperback copy of Life of Pi by Yann Martell. Bought in a charity shop for next to nothing. A fabulous book about belief, stories and faith. And not what you would think upon initial reading. The inside cover was written upon in biro-

‘Rose – get beyond the first hundred pages and it really picks up.’

I’ve no idea who Rose is. Or the (I assume) man was who gave it to her. But it was sensible advice. I don’t know why Rose then gave it away to a charity shop.

But I think of them, whoever they are.

I then lend it to somebody else. Because I like the book and I like the person I lend it to. Like the person who gave it to Rose. Although I’m guessing Rose wasn’t too fond of it.

2) An Encyclopia in my Grandfathers ‘study’. It was really his front room, but even then he didn’t set foot in it. Amazing to a ten-year old boy. All the knowledge in the world, in one massive tome. The pages smelt of wisdom and escape.

3) The works of A.A.Milne. Worn and battered by generations. Red hardback covers hanging off, spines barely clinging. Read to my mother, read by my mother to me, read by me to my younger brother and sister and one day hopefully to my own children. Old books, literally falling apart and smelling of love, however misplaced.

4) Bookshelves. I’ve been massively fortunate growing up for one reason. There were always books. I doubt my mother or indeed any of the illiterates she married ever read any of the books they populated the book-shelves they insisted upon, but at least they were there. And for every three Jackie Collins (deeply alarming to a thirteen-year-old-boy) there was at least one Angela Carter (slightly more alarming but for better reasons). There was some Thomas Hardy, Sylvia Plath and Raymond Chandler. At least they were there.

But now they’ve invented this ‘Thing’. Upon which you can see any book anytime, like the online catch-up service of the BBC or 4 on-demand or whatever it’s called this week.

Sony have a competitor model called the ‘Kill all emotion and meaning let’s just digitize it all MK2’ or something. KAEAMLJDIA#2 is the production name.

They’ll probably win. And the losers will be people like me, who quite like seeing the odd coffee-cup ring on the page of a well-loved book. Who like giving or lending or reading to someone a book that they adore.

And Nicholson Baker will no doubt get by.


Blogger Ellie said...

Oh, yeah.

Years ago my big quandary was which books to shed when we were moving to the UK. I kept the choice ones ... the ones my mom read to me as a kid.

My favourite.

8:54 am  
Blogger Shane said...

I didn't get past the first hundred pages of Life of Pi. You just saved it from the next clear-out.

8:55 am  
Blogger Z said...

My son only kept going with Life of Pi on my recommendation, but then he loved it as much as I did. I laughed aloud at the end.

I don't necessarily mind the idea of reading a book on a screen, but it'd be a different experience. And, especially in a book with a dense plot or a good many characters, i often flip back to check up on something. This wouldn't work with an ebook, as I often find when browsing for information on the internet. If I haven't realised I needed to mark something, I generally can't find it again.

9:59 am  
Blogger Pueblo girl said...

This idea has been round for years, but I notice it's never had much success.
I suspect readers are actually the wrong market, because the kind of people who spend money on books are precisely the people who like all the aspects of paper books you mention. And who like reading in non-technology friendly places (in the bath or at the beach) whilst doing non-technology friendly activities (drinking, eating). Who stuff books in backpacks or handbags or back pockets, and let children handle the pages. Who lend and borrow books and give them as presents. And who at present are able to read anywhere in the world without worrying that someone is going to attack them in order to steal their paperback.

1:53 pm  
Blogger Plummy Mummy said...

Nice post. I like the idea of passing on books too and for a while toyed with the idea of joining that bookcrossing site. But then I like to lend books to people I know who I think will enjoy them. I also like it when the books come back.
My bro is a book killer though..he bends the spines and breaks them. A horrific crime to someone like me.
I am also a bit weird in that I have to be the first to read the book. I hate when my hubby reads a book I've bought before I've had a chance. It spoils that new page feeling for me.

4:02 pm  
Blogger Tired Dad said...

Ellie: Case in point. The screen-thing doesn't 'do' illustrations so D'Aulaire's tome would be far less enjoyable.

Shane: Good. It's worth the effort.

Z: True. I hadn't thought of that. What about the bloody students who always leave pencil marks on the pages? That'd be them fucked.

PB: The newspaper article featured a photograph of a woman reading one of these devices on a subway train. You're quite right - she looked like someone listening to an iPod in 2004 - begging to be mugged.

PM: I'm sort of with you on the new page feeling. It's the difference between sharing and being robbed.

Oh. And just to say I was rather drunk and couldn't sleep last night and was amazed this morning to discover I had written this, the amazing 'books are quite good' post of 2009. How embarrasing.

6:04 pm  
Blogger Sewmouse said...

I get headaches staring at a screen for too long. I have no desire to get one of those Kindle things or whatever they're called. I'm able to read all day with a paper REAL book.

I have books my mom had as a child. I have books my grandmother had from her youth. When all those electronic toys are broken and tossed away, the words of MY books will still be readable.

Great post, TD.

6:57 pm  
Anonymous Benj. said...

Disagree with you TD and PM, I love dogged pages, broken spines, and coffee cup stains. To me it says the book was loved and read, 'Stuffed in a handbag' (Pueblo girl) and thoroughly bloody enjoyed. Life of Pi, A town like Alice, Catch 22, AA Milne, I tilt at windmills in the bus queue and fall asleep with Ranulph Fiennes plopped on the floor beside me ( not literally!). You are right in one thing TD.......they can stuff their e books up their arse!

10:44 pm  
Anonymous Benj. said...

Didn't Coleridge get mullered and wake up having written Kubla Khan? Glad you is back on form me dear.

10:56 pm  
Anonymous janeway said...

Wow. You do a lot better when you're shitfaced than I would.

12:10 am  
Blogger Four Dinners said...

Books are books. They are not digitalised thingys. Nicholson Baker is a dick.

11:06 am  
Blogger Tired Dad said...

Sew: Thanks.

Benj: No, it's just if they're brand new I like to have first read of them. It feels like stealing if someone reads it first.

And this isn't exactly Kubla Kahn is it? And when was 'off' form? And 'my dear'? Jesus.

J: As I say, I didn't even know I had.

Dinners: I'm not sure if he was trying to be dick about it but I agree with the rest.

6:34 pm  
Blogger Helen DeWitt said...

My father died last year, but we still have the copies of When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six that he was read as a child, and which were read to me, and which I then coloured in with various crayons. I think I may also have seen the black-and-white illustrations in The House at Pooh Corner as begging for improvement. I've got the first book I ever bought, a paperback edition of Ben Jonson's poems when I was 15, and the second book I bought, at 16, with 20 hours of babysitting money, an Introduction to Ancient Greek from which I was sadly unable to teach myself the language. And, of course, many more. Course, I am now packing to visit my mother and a whole suitcase is being dedicated to work-related books, so the thought of a gadget that could get them all in my hand luggage is not without its appeal.

10:02 pm  
Blogger Cynnie said...

well fuck're back

1:28 am  
Blogger Tired Dad said...

Right. Sorry. Busy.

Helen: Welcome back. Have just spent a week reading my 1952 edition of Winnie-the-Pooh to my children, and have been surprised by the doodles of my six-year-old self within it. That's worth it's weight in gold but I 'hear what you're saying'.

C: There's no need for that but yes I am back. Demonstrably.

8:42 pm  
Blogger Shackleford Hurtmore said...

I love proper paper books. But I also spend a lot of time travelling on business. I quite fancy one of these eBook things to save on the amount of 2-inch thick manuals I have to carry, and also to replace the 3-4 fiction books I have to pack for every trip (I read fast). I'll never give up my proper books on my proper bookshelf though.

10:25 pm  
Blogger Tired Dad said...

SH: Functional books are I suppose a different thing. But how do you get past the 'not able to write on the margins' stuff?

7:55 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

I knew there was a reason I liked you - you're so much like me.

1:20 am  

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