Thursday, 15 December 2011


I just watched this week's instalment of BBC's 'Imagine' hosted by Alan Yentob.  It was called 'Books - The Last Chapter?'  It was about the rise of eBooks and what it meant for the traditionally physical book.  He spoke with writers Alan Bennett, Douglas Coupland, Ewan Morrison and Gary Shteyngart.  It was reasonably balanced in presenting the debate about what the future holds, but what I took away from it is that it is the content that will endure whatever is the vessel for conveying it.  However, it did make me wonder whether just writing the book is going to be enough.  It seemed to suggest that all books are destined to require extras, like a DVD or BluRay.  I see how this would be very valuable for reference books or learning resources. But don't we just want to leave a good story as it is, leaving it up to the reader to make of it what they will rather than dictating what they should be taking away from it?  Does the writer really need to pull back the curtain and reveal the magic?  As I'm writing, thoughts are flooding into my head against my own argument.  All of the classics have reference books dedicated to them - where would literature students be without the notes?  Yes, I know, thinking for themselves, you might say.

I think it's inevitable.  Okay, so it will not be immediate, but the demise of the book in printed form will arrive. It's already started.  I don't need to tell you what you see when you look around you if you catch the train to work.  It doesn't even seem to have restricted itself to a particular age of person any more - the infection is spreading and there's nothing wrong with it.  It got me thinking - could our reading habits change?  Maybe some already read the way I'm about to propose, but I was thinking of trying to read several books at a time. It works for television, could it work for literature?  We don't watch a whole series of one thing without watching another - we get our weekly fix of each.  I was just thinking that, if you've got a kindle, or any other e-reader device, what's the point of having hundreds of books stored on it if you're only going to read one at a time.  Apart from the kindle app on my Android phone, I haven't yet been pulled away from the book in its physical form.  So, if you find my commentary a bit naive, I apologise for my inexperience.

Like I say - I don't think it's in the immediate future- they haven't finished building The New Birmingham Library yet.  But the time they are a changin'.

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