Why I’ll Never Use an e-reader by Matthew Pritchard
Over the last 18 months I have purchased three e-readers: one for each of my parents, and a third for a friend. Having seen the machines in action, I have been impressed by them but know for a fact they’ll never be for me.
This is why.
In the interests of fairness, let me point out that I was brought up in and around second-hand bookshops (my uncle owns one), and am also something of a Luddite – I do not currently own a mobile telephone, an iPad, a Playstation, a television, a Twitter account or any of the other 21st century technological wonders many consider indispensable – so I hardly fall within the ideal e-reader demographic. But there are many reasons why I consider the good old-fashioned book superior in every way.
Reading is a tactile experience for me. I love the feel of a book in my hands, be it a dog-eared paperback or a leather-bound tome with marbled boards. I am also a great one for scribbling in books. Unknown words for which I need to seek a definition are underlined in red; facts I mean to remember are highlighted in green; and pieces of fantastic writing are highlighted in yellow so that I can pick them apart word by word later on and analyse why they work so well.
And when I get a good book, one of those that leaves me fizzing with excitement and desperate to talk about the plot and characters with others, I carry it around with me and force it into the hand of the first friend I meet with the words, ‘You have got to read this!’ I know you can share books between e-readers, but I imagine it’s hard to kindle the same enthusiasm when all you’re doing is sending them a file.
Which brings me to my next point: does anyone else miss being a collector? In a world where music, film and literature are only ever a click and download away, some of the fun has gone out of tracking down those hard-to-come-by books and albums that used to take years to find. I still remember the thrill of being ten-years-old, walking into Thorpes bookshop in Guildford and, after an entire day of fruitless searching with my Dad, hearing the shop assistant say, ‘H.P. Lovecraft? Yes, I think I do have one of his out the back.’
I also like the way that a shelf of books provides a clear indication as to what goes on inside a person’s mind. I can normally tell whether I will get on with a person once I get a look at the spines of his or her books. That said, seeing what a person is reading can sometimes challenge your preconceptions of them. I remember seeing a young city-boy type on a train up to Waterloo reading Noam Chomsky’s Understanding Power and thinking that perhaps there was some hope for the world.
Books are also decorative. On wet afternoons when I’m stuck inside and my writing is done for the day, I quite often pop on a favourite album of San Francisco psychedelia and rearrange my books. Sometimes I put them in alphabetical order by title or author; other times I divide them into their various genres, but I am always pleased by the ease with which my library can assumes fresh and exciting new configurations. I have lived in at least a dozen different houses in three different countries over the last 20 years but the sight of those colourful spines beside my bed as I awoke each morning always made me feel at home.
Finally, books are far tougher than e-readers. You can drop books, spills things on them, step on them, have dogs bite them, leave them in the sun and still be able to access the words within. Fire is the only thing that poses a real threat and (hopefully) the world has moved beyond the need for burning them en-masse. But if humanity does stumble into another period of darkness, wouldn’t you rather see a pyre of illicit books blazing defiantly rather than having the proscribed titles silently wiped from our e-readers?
Matthew Pritchard worked as a journalist in southern Spain for ten years, and based his first novel, Scarecrow, on his experiences there. His second novel, Werewolf, is a historical thriller set in Germany in the immediate aftermath of WWII.
His latest book, Broken Arrow, was published by Salt Publishing on November 15th, 2015, and is based on a real-life nuclear accident that saw the United States Air Force drop three H-bombs onto mainland Spain.
Pritchard’s books are known for the punchy, compelling nature of their prose and for the meticulous research that underpins them. His favourite crime authors are Ian Rankin, Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler. His blog can be found at www.matthewpritchard.net