The Kindle or an actual book

I’ve entered the world of the e-book rather late, but ever since I bit the bullet and downloaded the Kindle app on my iPad and Mac, I’ve gone just a little bit crazy. I stay up late trawling Amazon for titles by my favourite authors, buying a Kindle version, marvelling at the speed of the download, and at how – wait for this! – I can read them on both my iPad and Mac, syncing them so the book opens where I last left off reading on either machine.

I know, I know, it’s all a bit sad. The wide-eyed wonder at the marvels of modern technology. The compulsive downloading of books with the feverish urgency of an addict. But tell me this, how could I possibly resist when I found the new titles of two of my favourite authors on Amazon just before I set off on holiday? They still hadn’t hit the shops in India. But there they were on Amazon’s shelves: Donna Leon’s The Golden Egg and Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller. The freshly-minted covers were gleaming up at me, whispering ‘Buy me, buy me NOW.’ so, gentle reader, I did.

You cannot imagine my smugness (or perhaps you can) when I set out on my travels with two brand-new titles nesting inside my Kindle app. This was brilliant, I told myself. Counting my previous downloads, I had five books on tap – and all within a tiny gadget that weighed about 650 grams. No more weighing down suitcases with tomes I had to get through on vacation. I could finally do that glossy-magazine thing of travelling light. Score!

But then I made the mistake of wandering into a bookstore on the first day of my vacation. And there it was: the new Donna Leon book, all mysterious black and glamorous gold, mocking me from the shop window. Ha, it said, don’t you wish you had held out for the real thing?

And you know what? I kind of did. Now that the actual, physical book was in front of me, I wished nothing more than to possess it. It would join the 16 (or is it 17?) Donna Leons lined up on my bookshelf at home, and live happily ever after in my study where I could pull it out occasionally, re-read the odd chapter (or hell, re-read the entire book) whenever I felt like it. I would feel its heft in my hands, the pages would whisper as I turned them, and I could breathe in that new-book smell, more evocative than jasmine or lily of the valley. course, I couldn’t possibly do that now. The book had been downloaded on my iPad, I had already started reading it on the flight. How could I possibly justify buying the same book twice (albeit in different forms) to my frugal middle-class brain?

But that night, as I lay in bed with my iPad, scrolling the pages rapidly to get to the meat of the plot, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have been happier reading this in print.

Yes, there is a certain convenience to reading your books on an e-device of some sort (so long as you remember to keep it charged). And e-books are certainly a blessing for people like me who live in small apartments that are already overflowing with far too many (if there can be such a thing) books. And who can deny that there is a certain environmental argument for not felling more trees to produce paper on which books (no matter how execrable) can be printed.

I see all that on a rational level. And now that I have discovered the delights – and the convenience of Amazon – I will
certainly be lightening my load with e-books whenever I head out on holiday. But that said, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of holding a brand-new book by one of your favourite authors in your hands, and plunging right in.

From HT Brunch, April 21

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