FORGET the current British fixation with, in no particular order, Usain Bolt, cycling, torrential rain, Andy Murray, the Summerhall Fringe venue, singing the national anthem, not singing the national anthem, and Yorkshire puddings in sandwiches. (OK, the last one may just be personal.)
Far away from the bright lights of stadiums and the underground venues of Edinburgh, another obsession is taking hold of the country’s lapels. An obsession with reading.
Fear not, fellow word-lubbers. I am not about to start banging on about the overwhelming success of Fifty Shades of Whatever again. This is because every time anyone mentions that book, another gazillion copies are sold, a Fringe comedian makes an offensive joke and all the world’s children shed a tear. It’s just not worth it.
What I’m talking about is Amazon’s news that for the first time ever, sales of Kindle ebooks are outstripping sales of common or garden variety books. For those who’ve forgotten, these are the heavy kind that gather dust and memories, have pages that must repeatedly be turned and covers that can be seen by prying eyes on the bus. Apparently we’re not so fussed about them any more. Reality can be inconvenient, I suppose, which is the same reason we started running on machines in strip-lit, sweaty rooms that you have to pay to enter instead of out there in the free world, among the flowers and downpours, as Usain Bolt intended.
Anyway, for every 100 books sold on Amazon, 114 ebooks are now being downloaded. (We will not dwell on how many of them are The Book That Shall Not Be Named). British Kindle owners are snapping up four times more books than they did before they owned an ebook reader. So two things are happening. Not only are we reading more ebooks; ebooks are making us read more.
Now, despite being a person who loves her Kindle, I’m worried about this wholesale crossover to the light side. As far as I’m concerned, there remain only three good reasons to read an ebook. One: because they weigh as little as a Penguin classic. Two: so that you can read a book you don’t care about for a fraction of the price (such as, you know, a book I might have refrained from mentioning earlier on). Three: so you can wander the earth with your very own mobile library, knowing that if you are ever delayed, bored, lonely or skiving, you have the perfect arsenal of words at your disposal.
Note, by the way, that the benefit of being able to read naughty books without anyone knowing is a smokescreen. Ladies, have you forgotten how we spent all those years hiding Judy Blume’s Forever inside the jacket of Great Expectations? It was easy. Anyway, once Amazon knows your love of novels about spanking, presume that everyone does and they’re all poised to start flogging you handcuffs and recommending other items that may interest you.
Books are windows to the soul, and Kindles have no windows. If we want to judge one another, and of course we do, how are going to go about it with everyone hiding their personalities in their Kindles? Judging others is what separates us from our fellow sentient creatures (everyone knows dolphins don’t judge) and why we invented such noble pursuits as, erm, The Only Way is Essex. Without this capacity, we are basically a bunch of nameless, faceless ebots, lost at sea and blinded to each other’s guilty pleasures.
When I go round someone’s house for the first time, I want to be able to cock my head at their shelves, scan their spines and decipher, Terminator-style, who they are. Lots of Agatha Christie? Quirky, vintage-loving, tea-drinking friend for life. Lots of Stuart MacBride? Gets off on violence against women, get out now. Scrolling through the contents of a person’s Kindle in secret is so much harder than spying on their shelves. I’d much rather people saw me reading my old, worn copy of Forever, now liberated from its secret hiding place, and made up their minds.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 3 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West