Are You e Reading?

 Jeff Bezos (founder and CEO of Amazon.com) said – “The physical book really has had a 500 year run. It’s probably the most successful technology ever. … Given how much change there has been everywhere else what’s remarkable is how stable the book has been for so long. But no technology, not even one as elegant as the book, lasts forever.”

Recently Amazon has been aggressively advertising the Kindle Paperwhite in India. Anyone would think it is the next big bump up on the evolutionary scale. So, if we haven’t completely fallen for it, are we throwbacks to the cavemen? Or, are we just in the transitional stage?

PS: I wonder whether once the Guttenberg printing press was set up, in the 15th Century, it was decried as a soulless abomination? Whether people wept over the going out of fashion of handwritten books with their beautiful margin drawings created by monks and scribes sitting in isolated monasteries? Whether they felt the loss of parchment and vellum and thought that wood pulp just did not feel the same under their fingers?

LL: They must have felt cheated to see just pages and pages of text, without the ornamental first letter embellished with flora and fauna and the script without curlicues and strokes. Not to mention the lack of gold on the pages. They must have said things like, ‘A book without gold leaf! Where is the value in it then?’

PS: Imagine the horror of reading a book printed by a rattling machine, operated by chattering commoners, in the clamour of a workshop. As opposed to one elaborately and painstakingly created by a silent monk in the sanctified atmosphere of a scriptorium.

LL: And now imagine reading on an ebook reader without the feel of paper, the rustle of a page being turned, the smell of the book and, if second hand, wondering where else it has been. Even a non-illustrated, hard copy of a book has magic in it.

PS: But some of them have beautiful covers which are sometimes embossed and which one loves to run one’s fingers over. And there are Josh Kirby’s detailed and colourful covers for Terry Pratchett’s books which do not look the same on an eReader.

LL: I like the Puja Ahuja covers for Penguin, they are so pretty, they manage to put you in the right mood for reading.

PS: But I have to admit that the ebook readers are convenient. It’s great to be able to carry around so many books and have the choices available, no matter where you are. So, if you are going away on holiday for two weeks, you don’t have to worry about anticipating what you may feel like reading or re reading at any given point of time. Which avoids the hassle of packing and worrying about weight. Terry Pratchett? There it is in your eReader. Poetry or Austen? Available at your fingertips.

LL: But not everything is about convenience, it’s also about the feel of things and the mood that it creates.

PS: I know what you mean. Somehow I am alright re reading old stuff on an eReader but prefer to read new books in the physical form (not necessarily new copies). I can’t explain why.

LL: Maybe it’s a matter of what you have been used to right from the very beginning.

PS: The eReader tells you what percentage of the book you have completed but I like to see what 43 per cent looks like when held between my thumb and forefinger. And (gasp, shock, horror) that rare quick flip to the back page, just to see how things end, cannot happen so easily on a Kindle.

LL: Very brave of you to even admit it.

PS: (Shrug) Besides, can you get the visiting authors at the Jaipur Lit Fest to sign the e books you have downloaded on your eReader?

LL: So the question is whether e books will replace the physical book like Jeff Bezos feels it will.

PS: What does he know? Amazon has admittedly now ‘moved on’ and books are no longer a major portion of their business. I agree with Stephen Fry when he said “Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.”

LL: Yes but he is an old fogey like we are. So in the spirit of solidarity with old fogeys around the world who think similarly, we shall quote the most amazing Harper Lee:

“Now… in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, ipods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books.”

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