A Luddite Writes. And Reads.

On Saturday I said goodbye to my 30s.  I had a great day.  Chelsea lost, and Arsenal won.  I had a nap in the afternoon.  In the evening my parents cooked the most delicious dinner I can remember.  Really, it doesn’t get much better than that.

I received some great presents, too.  Some very fancy cufflinks, my favorite candy from the children (green and orange jelly bellies), and Mastering the Art of French Cooking, among other things.  Most intriguingly, Christina gave me a Nook.

nookFor the uninitiated, this is the e-book created by Barnes & Noble, their answer to amazon’s Kindle.  It’s a very cool device.  Reading it really is very similar to reading ink on a page.  There is none of the glare or strain of looking at words on a screen.  It’s compact and feels good in the hand.  I’ve not tried a Kindle, but the Nook looks like a superior piece of kit, design-wise.  You can download sample chapters of any book for free, which I like.  But I wonder whether, for all of its appeal as an gadget, it’s something I’ll actually use very much.

Undoubtedly e-books are wonderful for people who spend hours every day commuting to work or who travel a lot.  I can see the benefits of being able to download periodicals and newspapers, and to pack one thin item in your suitcase rather than a stack of heavy books.  But.

Our house is full of books.  Every room has them bursting of the shelves.  They are often stacked two deep to save space.  I understand that an e-book solves this problem, but frankly it’s a problem I love.  Even after the books have been read, I still relish every one of them as artifacts.  I wrote a while ago about the improbable joy I derive from looking at the spines of the books in my study, and you can’t do that if they’re all tucked away on a microchip.  It’s become something of a cliche to claim that the book is the most perfect piece of technology ever invented – it’s portable, compact, doesn’t require a power source, fulfills its function perfectly, etc., etc.  But you know what they say about cliches: there’s a reason they’re cliches…

Time will tell, but I worry I’m too much of a Luddite.  For example: one of the books I searched for is an interesting-looking history of Americans in Paris during the Nazi Occupation by Charles Glass.  Within moments, there it was, the first few pages up on the screen.  I read them.  It looks excellent.  And then I thought: wow, I want the actual book.

Also, I’m not sure about the much-vaunted benefits of being able to download a book instantly.  Obviously people rarely go to bookshops any more (although I’m delighted to see that Get Lost Bookshop on 9th Street in Columbia is to receive another lease of life), but I have learned to enjoy the few days’ wait while packages are delivered from amazon.  The delay makes the unwrapping all the sweeter.  Anyway, I’ve always got a book on the go, so it’s very unusual for me to begin anything the day I get my grubby paws on it.

Perhaps my Nook’s real benefit may lie elsewhere.  Hallam, our 8 year-old, has always been a keen (if somewhat unorthodox) reader, but since he got a Nintendo DS for Christmas it’s become more difficult to get him to read as much as he used to.  My Nook has a screen, and is therefore inherently fascinating to him.  Can you see where I’m going with this…?

(By the way, in case any of you are thinking me an ungrateful so-and-so for posting this about what was an obviously thoughtful and generous present from my wife, I should say that Christina knew I might have reservations about it when she bought it.  She checked Barnes & Noble’s return policy before she bought it, and she has promised me she won’t be offended in the slightest if I return it.  Not sure if it will come to that.  We shall see.)

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