Light My Fire: The E-reader Debate

Yes, I know that’s a heinous crime for an English Literature graduate. I’ve been told many times already that we discerning book lovers should stoically stick together and hate the e-book in the same way that we should all appreciate poems that don’t rhyme and drink too much cheap merlot. I’ve heard all the arguments before. ”It’s not the same”. Um, no, no it’s not the same. ”It doesn’t smell the same”. Strange, but okay, it does not smell the same as that book you found under you bed last month with an old sock for a book mark. And the third, favorite argument, ”[insert a disapproving facial expression]”. So here goes, the literary version of my much-aerated verbal argument for the Amazon Kindle (because let’s face it, there is as yet no real other contender for the e-book, fan or not).

Let me first address the health and safety issues brought up against the Kindle. Yes, LCD screens are bad for your eyes and cause eye strain if used for a prolonged period. The Kindle does not have an LCD screen. The text on a Kindle screen is in fact sharper than that of a book. This clearer text can also be magnified, handy if you struggle to read small lettering and a little easier to read for those who struggle with dyslexia.

Environmental issues? The standard Kindle needs charging about once a month, and the manufacturing process will have a ‘carbon footprint’. However, the Kindle holds thousands of books. How big a carbon footprint does a thousand books have? How many trees cut down and how much oil used for that cheap colorful front cover?

It doesn’t smell the same. Generally, I read with my eyes, not my nose. Besides, I think the likes of George Orwell would be a tad disappointed if, he realized that on finishing one of his masterpieces attempting to evoke social change your thoughts on closing the book were: ‘’Oh. YUM. Smells like my Gran’s kitchen!’’.

It’s not as romantic. I love my books, I really do. I have insulated the wall of my bedroom with them. On moving back home to my Mam’s house last summer, the two of us have created a bomb-shelter from the pages of Foucalt to Golden Eagle, capable of withstanding a nuclear holocaust.

And yet… do I really need all of those hard copies? I believe there is a large distinction between books you keep and treasure, and books you read and remember. An example? Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, a stunning picturebook which you need to hold and caress and swoon over each and every page. It is a piece of artwork that you must hold a copy of to truly appreciate. The same goes for my student copy of Shakespeare’s works. It’s a softened, battered, grubby copy filled with my notes from AS-Level (‘’What the hell??? NO IDEA what’s going on. ’’) to my degree (‘’Hamlet is SUCH a dandy- lolz’’). No-one else ever needs to see this copy of Shakespeare, it’s mine, it’s a part of my past and I keep it on the shelf with the photos of Sports Day ’96.

For everything else, there’s the Kindle.  There was a time when I felt the urge to carry a dictionary around for all those moments when I wanted to check the correct usage of a word, or to bring down a friend’s poor attempt at using a big word effectively. (Look, I TOLD you that’s not what Propinquity means!). I’m sure you know as well as I do, that mobile phone dictionaries are pathetic, incomplete, and American (i.e. the letter ‘z’ is everywhere that you’ve never seen it before. Very disconcerting.) Roll on the Kindle. You can have the complete, twenty-six volume full English Dictionary all in a rectangle the weight and size of T.S.Eliot’s The Wasteland.

There’s also those moments when you’re on the bus, in a tight space, trying to read Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. Your hand will split as you struggle to keep the page open at number two-hundred-and-thirty-six, while your other hand is clutching your week’s groceries. The Kindle is light, thin and very portable. Therefore: extra room for chewing gum, fags and tissues in your handbag. Perfect.

Finally, and for me, most importantly, is the sheer accessibility of e-book publishing. Almost anyone can do it, writers deemed unpublishable by traditional means have made big money through clever enterprising  and e-publishing. And the fact that anyone can do it, means that there’s more weird and wonderful things out there for us to read. Your taxi driver’s life story, or that what that old lady down the road got up to during WWII. Sure, it’s not all great quality, but it’s one heck of a treasure trove.

Self-published works aren’t all have-a-go types either. A lot of the work we receive in Alliterati Magazine is unpublished and unprinted elsewhere. We receive so much work from talented people, and we KNOW these guys can make a fortune from what they enjoy doing most. Creating. So why not, lovely readers, writers and artists, get all of your fantastic poems, short stories or artwork together and turn it into your own full-length piece? And instead of monotonously emailing publishers who are uninterested, or else out to rip you off…why not publish it yourself? I’d buy it.

-Bethany G Rogers

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