The Portable Bookcase

How many books do you take on holiday? Just the one you bought at the airport? Maybe one you’ve kept back especially? Perhaps several, sifting through them at the last minute – eeny, meeny, miny, moe — before squeezing them into your suitcase, mindful of your baggage allowance.

I’ve spent a lot of time travelling in the last nine years, working away from home on business. I’m used to humping a bunch of books between home and hotel: a novel (or two), some short story collections, a couple of non-fiction, maybe several writing-related how-to books. It’s not easy sometimes deciding which to take and which to leave behind, even when you know that three or four days later you’ll be home again and have them all at your fingertips.

So when the Sony Reader came out a few years ago, I was delighted. Here was the future – the portable bookcase. I didn’t buy one because it was overpriced, and I was confident the price would fall before long. It didn’t, not much, and though I often looked I was never tempted to touch. A literary Luddite, I continued to lug my books around the country. I quite fancied the Kindle, which had Wi-Fi connectivity for downloads that the Sony lacked, but at the time it was only available in North America.

The world has turned a few times since and last Christmas Santa Claus brought me a Kindle, complete with keyboard, Wi-Fi and 3G connections.

I’d like to tell you about the amazing features, the cool technology, the thrill of being able to select a book from my armchair and be reading it on my Kindle sixty seconds later. But I won’t. Not because I’m not impressed by all that stuff. I am. I belong to the gadget generation, after all. But after only five months of having a Kindle, downloading books in seconds, carrying dozens of books around with me in a device no larger than, say, Ayn Rand’s Anthem (all 105 pages of it), bookmarking, highlighting and all that jazz, the Kindle has become … normal. As normal as using a mobile phone, a cordless drill, or an MP3 player.

So I’m not going to rave about the Kindle, but I am sold on it. It has changed the way I read books. It has changed the way I buy books.

I don’t anticipate buying more than a handful of paper books this year. I’ll almost definitely buy The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 25 when it’s published this summer, even though it’ll be available on the Kindle, because — call me a sentimental old fool, but — I have copies of them all from 17 onwards and it’s a collection I’d like to maintain. Maybe I’ll even buy paper and kindle versions. I’ve already done that for a couple of books, for example I bought a hardback copy of a friend’s novel at the launch but read it on Kindle.

This means that if you’re a writer and you’re only being published in paper format, the chances of me buying your book are extremely small. The flip side is that I’ve already bought several books this year that I wouldn’t have been tempted to if they hadn’t been available via Kindle download. I guess that means there are winners and losers. I can’t speak for others, but if my behaviour is typical, the best thing you can do is ensure that you’re published in paper and e-book formats.

I’m not anti-paper books: I own hundreds of them, many still queued for reading and I’ll get through them all eventually. I still enjoy the feel of a real paper book in my hands. I still like the cover art. I’m just pro-Kindle. The Kindle has become normal, the normal way for me to buy and read books. And it really is something I’ve always wanted – a portable bookcase.


One month on: What happened to National Flash Fiction Day? What happened is that it was a great success, with events held all round the country and a gorgeous anthology produced in time for the event.

And I managed to get to the launch event in Southampton on Wednesday evening. First of all, it was great to catch up with Vanessa Gebbie and Sara Crowley. Secondly, it was lovely to meet, among others, Calum Kerr, organiser of the whole thing, and Holly Howitt. Thirdly, it was great to hear readings by Vanessa, Sara, Calum, Holly, Natalie Bowers (who manages the 1000words site) and others. Calum even managed to convince me to get up and read my little piece from the anthology, Fiver, and I’m pleased to say that it went down well. And the evening was really made by those people who turned up just to listen, so an enormous thank you goes out to them.

If you don’t already own a copy of Jawbreakers, you can find details on the NFFD site here:

and if you’re wired up you can download in Kindle format from Amazon for less than you’d pay for a cup of coffee in town:

It includes stories by a whole bunch of flash fiction writers, with contributions from Ali Smith and Ian Rankin.

So, National Flash Fiction Day has been a great success all round. The launch event was fantastic. Support around the country was fabulous. The anthology is brilliant. A massive well done goes out to Calum Kerr.

I’m already looking forward to next year.