Heathcliff is wilder than the moors. But can the Wuthering Heights hero hold his own against the paperback, e-reader, smartphone and audiobook?
Wuthering Heights is my favourite book of all time – I’ve been reading it every winter since I was 14. For the dummies who haven’t read it (not even once? But how is that possible?), Emily Brontë’s passionate, haunting novel is about the unfulfilled, overpowering love between the dark Heathcliff and wild Catherine Earnshaw. But she weds Edgar Linton for social advancement and Heathcliff runs away, only to come back three years later – a gentleman. He marries Edgar’s silly spoilt sister, Isabella, but is cruel to her. They have a son, Linton, whom he despises as well. Cathy dies, leaving behind a daughter, Catherine Linton. Thirteen years pass. Heathcliff forces Catherine to marry his sickly son Linton just before his death. As time passes, Heathcliff gets more obsessed (and haunted) by Cathy’s ghost. The ending? It’s happy.
Wuthering Heights is one of the greatest love stories ever told. Every time I read it, I discover something I had previously missed – an undercurrent, a quote. So I couldn’t think of a better way to judge four reading platforms. Armed with a paperback, Kindle, my phone and an audiobook on my laptop and iPod, I set out to see if the new devices were any good. Here’s how it went…
I’d convinced myself that the best reading experience was going to be the good ol’ ink on paper. But I couldn’t find my copy! It took less than three minutes to source it for the other platforms (and three days to find the darn book!). While reading, I grudgingly admit, I found a few more flaws: Your bookmark can slip out, you need a night light, the corners curl up if it you stuff it in your bag. And there’s the matter of the murdered trees (I’ve always thought it a necessary evil!).
But nothing compares to curling up with a tattered copy of an old classic and letting the sweet papery smell transport you to Brontë’s moors. You can read it in the bath, sprinkling rain and a lonely island – damp pages never hurt anyone.
I also had a charming chat with a lovely old woman on the Metro whose eyes sparkled when she saw me holding the book.
"You like Heathcliff? He scared me," she said.
When my brother bought a Kindle last month, I eyed it suspiciously, called it names and happily admired my bookshelf instead. E-books are just not beautiful, I said. It’s too darn practical, I argued. But practical it is, to a T. It’s light, it’s flat, you don’t have to worry about creasing the spine (or pages coming loose), the font size is adjustable and I often moved my hand to flip the page without realising it’s not really a book. You can read it in sunlight (but not under the covers at night, it’s not backlit).
And when discussing our past break-ups with a friend, I could just pull out my Kindle to quote Catherine Earnshaw, “I gave him my heart, and he took and pinched it to death; and flung it back to me. People feel with their hearts, Ellen, and since he has destroyed mine, I have not power to feel for him.” Why learn Shakespeare by heart when you can carry him with you everywhere?
I have now loaded a gazillion classics – for everything I can’t afford to read on my salary: There’s the Kindle. Public Domain – gotta love it.
And it allows for guilty pleasures: Nobody knows what you’re reading (unlike the book). I won’t be caught dead reading the Twilight series but if I absolutely had to indulge in some weird teenage fantasy, I’d hide it on my Kindle.
I own a BlackBerry Curve 9300 and it’s not the smartest phone around. So after several unsuccessful attempts to download Kobo (which refused to work) and Whattpad (which refused to download), I stumbled upon the mobile edition of the book on Project Gutenberg (it has over 36,000 free books). Although not particularly user-friendly, I could bookmark where I left, adjust the font and most importantly, I could avoid making polite conversation with boring aunts at family dos by pretending to read work emails on my phone.
I’m used to ogling at my phone screen at all hours anyway, so I wasn’t particularly uncomfortable reading on a tiny screen. I read it in the loo, in the car, at work, while waiting for a friend (and a coffee) at Barista, and my favourite place to read: in bed (lights turned off! Thank you, backlight). It came to me like an epiphany: Wherever you go, your phone follows. You don’t have to read that five-year-old health magazine in your doctor’s waiting room any more.
It was a rainy night, a rare thing for the Delhi monsoon this year. I downloaded an audiobook from Librivox, read by Ruth Golding. It was like having your own
personal English governess.
Audiobooks are a lazybum’s dream, you don’t have to do anything! I turned off the lights, lay in bed staring out of the window at the little park across the street. The words began to sink in my mind and my imagination ran wild. The book played on, “The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, ‘Let me in – let me in!’ ‘Who are you?’ I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself. ‘Catherine Linton,’ it replied, shiveringly…” I was more spooked than the time I watched The Ring.
You can listen to it any time, anywhere and on any device. But bookmarking is a problem. You can pause and resume but if you want to shuttle between music and the book, it’s going to be complicated.
Loyalties aside, I cannot pick a favourite. Because the thing with books is, it’s the story that matters anyway.
From HT Brunch, August 26
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