All that is solid …

I had some excellent news this morning (excellent as far as I’m concerned, anyway) when I got an email from the editors of Gutter magazine (see the link to the right) accepting one of my stories for the next edition. I’ve written book reviews for the last couple of issues, but this is the first time they’ve taken some of my fiction. It will be printed in issue 4, due out at the end of February – I’ll be sure to post a reminder nearer the time.

I’ve also been working hard on the essay for the first issue of Free State (closing date for submissions is the end of February, so there’s still plenty of time to send something in!). After weeks of prevarication, I’ve got a draft approaching 3000 words, with just the conclusions to write. I should have it done by the end of the week, and then I’ll redraft it over the weekend.

As part of my reading for the essay, I took notes on two of GK Chesterton’s books: “What’s Wrong With the World?” and “Utopia of Usurers, and other essays”. Neither of these books is in print, and the university library didn’t have them either. Knowing that they were essential for the essay, I turned to my newly acquired brand E-Reader Device (alright, it’s an iPad – I know, I’m sorry) and downloaded them for free from Amazon for the Kindle app. (This initially confused me – the Kindle is a separate e-reader device, but you can download the application for any smartphone, iPad, etc. So you don’t need a Kindle to be able to read a Kindle.) I wrote a few weeks ago about my proposed, personal experiment to read a book from beginning to end electronically, after my concern that I’d failed to really address one of the biggest issues in contemporary publishing, and this was the perfect opportunity to do so.

Initially, I was afraid that the experience would be more like observing a book than reading one, but I was surprised at how quickly the physical device (the “delivery system”, if you will) became irrelevant. Turning a page produced no real interruption in the flow of the work, and although you still maintain a slight distance from the text that you don’t when reading a physical book, the experience was not in any way off-putting. In fact, its very mundanity speaks volumes for its probable and eventual success as a model – if you expect to have your face burned off with the technological wonder of the thing every time you switched it on, I think the whole experience would soon fall victim to the iron law of diminishing returns. The fact that the e-reader itself just melts away while you get on with reading the book means that only a consciously determined Luddite would deliberately resist it. For everyone else, it’ll just be another way – and crucially not the only way – of reading books. For myself, and I suspect for other people, what will stop the e-reader from supplanting the paper book is not ease, convenience, or semi-mystical notions of communing with the author and the text, but a sense of ownership that consciously or subconsciously confers more value onto the book in your hands. I bought and downloaded a copy of Bernard Schlink’s “The Weekend” just before Christmas from iBooks, but I don’t in any way feel that I own a copy of that book, and I frequently forget that I’ve still to read it. It’s hard to shake the appeal of tangible things.

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