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.

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Date: Sunday, 27. May 2012 11:44
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  1. 1

    I used to be one hundred percent anti-Reader (or Kindle, or whatever…) but I have to admit, the Kindle Fire HD is a sexy piece of kit. It’s about 80/20 now.

    I don’t own one (yet) because despite opinions to the contrary, there is nothing quite like the smell of a new book. Also, I don’t want to give in to the new way of life.

    Not just yet.

    Books are meant to be physical things. You are meant to turn the pages, not slide your finger across the screen. I want to see my book on the shelf, not as a file in someone’s digital folder.

    It’s a shame it has come to this…

  2. 2

    Thanks Brian. I don’t imagine that paper books will die out any time soon. They’ll be around long after the Kindle Fire HD is forgotten. I’m happy to slide my fingers across the screen though, except maybe for technical reference books. With paper books becoming increasingly scarce there won’t be much call for shelves …