Many, many books.

I have purchased “many” books over the past six months. The reason I’m saying many is I really don’t want to confess to exactly how many, many is. Some might say my many is too many, some might tell me it’s a little extreme, some might go and check the credit card bill. And yes, I may be referring to my husband as “some”. One of my book purchases was a hard copy – it was a Christmas present. All of the other books were bought via amazon, on my kindle app for iPad.

Without exaggerating, for someone who’s been traveling for the past twelve years, the kindle has been life changing. I have lived in several locations where books were either censored or virtually impossible to buy. Now, with either a kindle,  iPad, or whatever device floats your boat, you can line up in your online store with the rest of the world and download whatever takes your fancy. If you’re sitting in a coffee shop in Azerbaijan scanning through the New York Times best seller list, it’s highly likely you’re going to feel a little less isolated from the rest of the world – well, until they serve you your Ovdukh.

Ebooks to those in remote locations mean you no longer have to wait for the next trip to the city, or if you’re overseas – the next trip “home”. You can join the conversation now. In my book group in Libya we would pre plan who was hosting the next meeting, to match with trips out of the country e.g. “I’ve got a doctors appointment in Malta in May –  so I’ll host in June”. Those days are gone. I will never have to hand carry 12 copies of “The Slap” on to a plane again.

As much as I love my new technology though, there remains an underlying feeling of guilt.

What about the book stores? What about the REAL books – the ones we like to smell and touch. What about that lovely English lady in the book store in Calgary, who read to the little travellers every Tuesday morning. She read with more conviction than Kevin Spacey in Richard III. The same woman who introduced us to the Gruffalo. A book I no longer need as I can now recite it word for word, on my own.

I was reading an article in the New York Times over the weekend, about the struggle of the The United States largest book retailer Barnes and Noble, in a world that has moved towards ebooks and online purchasing. They’ve come up with a device called the Nook. I’m not sure how it will compete but I really want them to be successful, and this is where it all turns hypocritical. I’m a fraud, a user, an empty customer.

I was chatting to a girlfriend recently and we both admitted the same guilty affliction. We love to go to the book store and look – and then we go home and purchase online. I love bookstores (particularly ones that sell coffee). I want to look at all the covers and open and read the dedications, the foreword. I want to disappear in to obscure sections that I wouldn’t usually go to. Sadly, I then want to then go home and purchase my findings on my iPad.

As much as I love paper books, the iPad is so much easier to hold in bed. It fits in to my handbag easily and I can have my email, audiobooks, Facebook, Twitter and newspapers all in the same location. For me, this move is a logical, practical move. It’s paperless and environmentally friendly, it’s available for those in remote locations and ebooks are usually a little cheaper than their paper counterparts. And it appears I’m not the only one feeling this way – ebook sales have now outgrown in store book sales and the figures are rising.  However, ebooks aren’t for everyone.

Yesterday at the Hay Festival in Cartagena, award winning novelist and essayist Jonathan Franzen had this to say,

“Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.”
“My problem with e-book readers is that one minute I’m reading some trashy website, the next minute I’m reading Jane Austen – on the same screen.”

I’ve read one of Jonathon Franzen’s novels – on my iPad. I managed to get through it without having to shoot off to a trashy website and getting confused. I even managed to listen to Franzens interview via podcast with Richard Fidler without switching to 102 classic dribble FM. Technology, for me, has opened my world to more art, more discussion and more books. 

Many, many books. I just can’t tell you how many. 

So if the book shop is gone where will I go to browse and relax, somewhere with the same community feeling, somewhere where the little travellers can sit and explore. Is it possible that we will all head back to the library? Or will that be online as well?

What do you think? What’s the future of book stores? What do you prefer?

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