Long live technology, but leave literature alone

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a book should be made out of paper, beautifully printed and bound with love

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a book should be made out of paper, beautifully printed and bound with love. Which is why, while the rest of the country were happily ripping the wrapping paper off their new e-readers this Christmas, I contentedly buried myself in a reader of the paper variety.

I am not a technophobe, in fact far from it. My laptop-come-iPod-come-camera-come-phone rarely leaves my side, and I often sleep with it under my pillow. I scour technology websites for the latest gadgets, and probably spend far too much on new devices. Yet, as an English student and lover of literature, the prospect of the death of real books fills me with dread.

The main problem is that the negatives often outweigh the positives. Sure, the ability to carry around hundreds of novels in a tiny device that fits in your handbag seems attractive, but what happens when that device goes wrong and you’re left with nothing to fill your two hour train journey? Or worse still, your two week beach holiday? In the fourth week of a three month jolly jaunt around the world, my iPod suffered heatstroke and died. For two months I was forced to listen to a single Jefferson Airplane album on a CD player bought from a Thai market. I subsequently lost my faith in technology, and although I try to ignore my niggling doubts, I know deep down, that all my gadgets, at some point, will break. On the other hand, unless you drop them in the bath or feed them to your pet piranha; real books are pretty much indestructible.

In a recent edition of Radio 4’s Front Row, examining the demise of the book, Mark Lawson also expressed the fear that e-readers would fail on him. A nice man from Sony tried to sooth away these worries, with this comfortingly vague statement; “They don’t go very wrong, that often, at all”. Sure, he continued, “If you dropped it from the top of building like Broadcasting House, then it’ll possibly be damaged in a way that a normal book wouldn’t be”. Possibly?! Of course it would be bloody damaged. It would smash in to thousands of tiny pieces! If a real book miraculously managed to fall off the top of Broadcasting House, you’d probably do more damage to the person it landed on.

I’ve always regarded reading as an opportunity not to have to gaze at a screen for a few hours. I spend the majority of my day either glued to my laptop screen, squinting at my tiny phone screen or gazing aimlessly at the television. E-readers will mean that yet another monitor is added to the massive pool of pastimes. The Daily Mail is perpetually outraged that young people spend all their time playing computer games, or on the internet. On this basis, if paper books cease to exist, how are parents ever going to encourage their kids to read? “Chantelle, turn that screen off and come and look at this one instead! It’s much better for you.” Even with this special e-ink that isn’t meant to tire your eyes, the fact remains; reading will become yet another form of screen staring.

Of course, e-books do have their perks. When writing an essay, there’s nothing more helpful than getting a computer to trawl through a novel for that one crucial quote. And it would be nice to carry around War and Peace without breaking my back in the process. But these small electronic devices will never carry the same sentimental value as real books; the old, musty smell; the sand from last year’s holiday or the bizarre notes you scribbled to yourself which don’t make any sense. When I think of a time when these small pleasures can no longer be experienced, I am filled with a great sadness.

And so I say this: Technology – you can take music; you have films; you can even transform people and pets. But please, please leave books alone. I’ve got a bookshelf full of novels I have yet to read, and I have no intention of letting them go.


  1. 19 Jan ’10 at 4:02 am

    Reformed Luddite

    I’d recommend giving Sony’s “Reader” a try, e-Book-wise.

    I thought the same, until I actually had the chance to use its screen. As surprising as it sounds, it’s about at the same level of comfort of reading an actual book.

    Fragility aside, that is.

    But, how often do you drop books? Honestly?

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  2. I drop books all the time…

    Very well said Anna, totally agree. My mini library of books is one of my proudest possessions and I can’t imagine ever trading them for a silver brick.

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  3. Pretty much the same article was on the BBC a couple of weeks ago.

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  4. I agree wholeheartedly. Good blog, Anna.

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