Burn the Kindle, that smooth, soulless metal box. Since when has it has been desirable to mash centuries of words, thought and images, of ink, paper and texture into a tacky palm-sized pod? To compress it all down to convenience? Bookshops and libraries are dwindling, all for the sake of owning the latest in a maddening torrent of meaningless gadgets.
So what are folk doing with these damn ‘e-readers’? Why on earth not just pick up a book?
Oh, but it’s cheap and easy, they say. You just log on, double-click, and it’s there on the screen. Well, a trip to the Oxfam bookshop is cheap and easy, and gives you the option of browsing through the shelves and finding a true bargain or an unheard of author. You can then cart your treasure a few doors down to meet your friends at the pub and discuss your finds over a sparkling Bellini. Try doing that in your bedroom on a bland Sunday as you log-on and double-click.
Oh, but it’s convenient, too, they say. You can just slip it in your bag! Well, if you can’t manage to slip a paperback in your bag then I think you’re carting around too many copies of Heat magazine, or Celebrity Dunderhead, or whatever it’s called.
It’s easier to look after, they tell me. Durable! Hard-wearing! Oh Lordy! A book is almost indestructible. You can read it in the bath and if it falls in amidst the Radox, the worst that’ll happen is the pages might crinkle slightly as they dry. You can’t smash a book. You can’t lose the fiddly wire that charges it. You can’t poison it with bugs and viruses. You can chuck it on the floor, you can throw it at an annoying boyfriend, you can leave it out on the deckchair overnight – and it’ll still be OK, ready to be used again and forever.
But, they wail, you can fit so many books on it! Well, I can fit so many books on my shelves. The local bookshops also have quite a number, and I believe the British Library contains 150 million.
Books are tough, hearty, and crammed with character. You can pull on old one down from the shelf and find notes which you scribbled in the panicky days of your finals; a scrawled telephone number from someone you haven’t thought of in years; a gorgeous lyric underlined in faded pencil; a score sheet for a silly quiz you played with a long-forgotten ex.
Compare that to the cold flickering screen.
Then, there’s the ultimate reason why a book is superior to an e-reader: because of the ways in which a book – a real book, with its scent and its texture and its weight in your hand – can inspire a child. I remember, aged four, pawing through my dad’s record collection in quiet wonder. I didn’t know who these bands and singers were. I didn’t appreciate the names of Marc Bolan, David Bowie and The Clash, and was simply attracted by the glamorous pictures on the album sleeves. I remember kneeling amidst the scattered records and holding up a Culture Club album and being awe-struck by Boy George’s electric eyeshadow, insanely crimped hair and the slash of red blusher on his cheekbones. ‘Look at all this!’ I thought. How could I have been so dazzled if dad had simply left an mp3 player lying around? It would have meant nothing. Likewise with books. If I ever have children, I want the brats to be surrounded by the things, to be tripping over them. I want them to touch, smell, see and read the books. I want every room in the house to be infused with literature and the walls to be creaking with bookshelves. I don’t want it all shrunk down into an anonymous metal box. Long Live The Book!