After reading The Million’s wonderful list of the best novels of the millennium so far (thank-you Tyler), I felt frankly rather shamed at not having read half of them. My self-image as a cultured human being under serious threat, I duly pitched down to Waterstone’s after work to buy Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections.
The thing is, The Corrections is a fairly hefty book – and my bag’s already filled with my none-too-light laptop. I’m dreading the Tube ride home with all this weight. But as I’m entering the PIN number for my debit card at the Waterstone’s counter, it suddenly occurs to me – I can buy the book on my iPhone. It will be cheaper than the physical book. It will weigh nothing whatsoever. What on earth am I doing buying a physical lump of pages?
As this thought staggered into my brain, I yanked my card out of the chip-and-pin device, mumbled ‘Oh, wait, sorry, I’ve just remembered, I don’t need this book’ (while the checkout guy looked at me like I was mentally disturbed), and meekly replaced the book on the shelf.
Standing outside Waterstone’s, I had The Corrections on my phone inside of five minutes. And I can’t help feeling that this moment – yanking my card out the chip-and-pin – has shifted something in my life irrevocably.
You see, I love books. Like adore them. My reading habits as a child were ferocious, and when I got a job in Waterstone’s as a teenager, it was like the Mother Ship was calling me home. Staff got a 30% discount on books, and I must have spent around half my wages in the store (employing a compulsive reader as a bookseller is pretty much an investment). It’s like being paid to constantly browse the shelves. My personal library will not fit in my London flat – the majority of my overstuffed bookshelves remain at my parents’ house, waiting to rejoin their kin when I can afford a bigger place.
Bookshops feel like home to me, and always have. When I arrive in a strange city, if I’m feeling a bit off-balance in that culture shock sort of way, I’ll find a bookshop, and spend an hour or two browsing. Never fails to calm my nerves.
And yet. Reading books on my phone is nothing short of wonderful. The books are always with me (a benefit I cannot overstate), they’re weightless, and – best of all – I can read while I’m walking, even when it’s dark. That probably sounds slightly unhinged, but I’ve always been a read-and-walk-er (a habit which will doubtless kill me one day when I step into traffic). Time spent walking from one place to another has always seemed like dead time – all that spare brain capacity, while your mind is basically going ‘left-leg-right-leg-repeat’… A backlit it screen is a technological quantum leap for read-and-walk-ers everywhere. An advance as profound as sliced bread, or refrigerated food – simple, brilliant, and life-changing.
So as of now, I’m an e-reader. I’m sure I’ll still buy physical books when, you know, I want the pictures. Or I’m going somewhere without electricity. Or they’re a present. But for my own day to day reading (and walking) – the e-book is the future. Vive la revolution…