Last year, there was a lot of noise around the Hay literary festival about a particular bookseller, Derek Addyman, deciding to go on a crusade of sorts against ereaders. You can read all about that here (warning: link goes to the Daily Fail website); suffice it to say that this is a guy who declares Kindles his “enemy”, talks about people who have ereaders having “no soul”, etc, etc. He actually banned people with ereading devices from his shops.
I’m pro-ereader, I’d better say this up front. And back when that article was published, I sent an email to Derek Addyman, suggesting the need for some tolerance and understanding. I never received any acknowledgement or reply, so I’d like to post a modified version here. There’s plenty of other anti-ereader rhetoric about, like Franzen’s diatribe or Sherman Alexie’s comment about ereading being like “masturbating with a condom”, so I think this isn’t just a thing Derek Addyman needs to hear.
My name is Nikki; I’m a twenty-four year old English Literature postgrad. I live and breathe books, and was raised in a house where I was daily surrounded by books and encouraged to read them, with supervision if they might be disturbing to me. These days I read an average of two books per day, and currently have around thirty books out of the library. My mother and father are similarly voracious readers, and my mother has even said that she couldn’t live without books.
The fact is, in your world, she would have to. She has macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of visual impairment in the UK. Books with small print are already very difficult for her to read, and her condition is only going to deteriorate more. A couple of years ago she bought her first ereader, which of course allows her to adjust the size of the font to a comfortable size for her to read without difficulty or straining her eyes. As a result, we can still share the experience of reading and talking about reading. This “soulless” invention allows my mother to continue her lifelong hobby of reading, to read the same books as me, to keep up with popular books that people are talking about, even to read literature related to her job. Without it, she would not be able to do so anymore.
She still loves bookshops, of course. Just last week, the two of us went into a local bookshop and she helped me pick some new books. She buys books for me all the time, and continues to support the publishing industry through buying ebooks as well. She’s even bought some of the books she’s excited about in hardback, just to have them. I don’t think she’s your enemy.
I also own an ereader. Right now, just beside me, I have my Kindle loaded with several hundred books, my tablet which I read advance e-galleys on, and twelve paperback books in my ‘to read soon’ pile. My bookshelves are loaded high with books. I can guarantee you that Kindle users like me are not contributing to bookshops going out of business! Many polls I have seen online show that a lot of people buy both “dead tree” and electronic books.
“Books are sociable and people stop and talk to each other about them. Kindles are just a phase and they won’t last. They are our enemy.” That is what you are quoted as saying in the Daily Mail. In your desire to promote the paper books, you would want people like my mother and me to be unable to talk about books — without ereaders, they would become a painful subject, because she could not read them.
I’m sure you didn’t intend to be rude to people with disabilities, but my mother was very upset by your article and its heartless accusations of people who use ereaders being “robots” or “soulless” or perhaps even the “enemy”, to extend your rhetoric. I am not currently a customer of yours, and nor do I intend to become one while you continue this campaign against ereaders.
There are, I will note, legitimate concerns about ereaders. The problems of DRM and censorship, for example; the digital divide (post by Seanan McGuire); even concerns about how environmentally friendly they are considering people’s tendency to indulge in fads. And yes, ebooks are changing (though not killing) the publishing industry.
But seriously. I love ebooks, and I love dead tree books. Sometimes I’ll end up carrying two ereaders and two dead tree books in my handbag. The two really aren’t mutually exclusive — and while I understand Franzen’s fears about the impermanence of ebooks and how that might affect society, I also see positive effects as well. I’m a volunteer for the RNIB and the Macular Society: so many people I come across are frightened of losing their ability to read, and so grateful for everything that helps them carry on reading. And it’s not just people with visual impairment, but people who physically can’t hold and manipulate a book. Heck, my Kobo even has a font option for dyslexic people. Ereaders offer a way to bridge some of the gaps in society, to level things out and make life better for everyone.
And hey, here’s a picture of a selection of my bookshelves, just to prove that I really mean what I say about loving both formats…