The extinction of the book

Will traditional print books will be replaced by online, downloadable-only content?

Revisiting this debate seems somewhat irrelevant now. Certain newspapers have already resigned themselves to the fact that their main readership will be internet rather than paper based within ten years, and the general public are besotted with Amazon’s best-selling product: the kindle. If you don’t believe me, just travel on the London underground and witness the countless commuters glued to electronic screens.

However, I refuse to acquiesce to the notion that the future of books is restricted only to digital format.

Whilst I’ll advocate reading in any format – the content of a book and its story-telling ability remain the same however its read – I will cling on to the book in tangible, sniffable and page-flickable form for as long as possible. Granted I am somewhat of a technophobe, still fearful of the many capabilities of my laptop and a rookie at handling my newfangled blackberry device, but never, ever will you convince me that the book is not worth preserving.

The experience of reading can be far more interactive and, in some ways, inspiring when done digitally; you can tweet and blog about the book you’ve just read, ‘like’ the characters on Facebook and engage in immediate discussions about your favourite parts.

But I also find something sacred and private about the experience of actually sitting down and reading a book that will never be captured or surpassed by reading a book on a kindle.

The term kindleworm is not something I imagine catching on, nor does the prospect of having an empty, unbrowsable bookshelf appeal to me. Bookshops, antique ones especially, are like little heavens on earth. Bursting with publications that have been handled, crinkled, browned and enjoyed; pages filled with stories and possibilities.

I see nothing romantic about holding a black tablet and touching a screen to turn the pages. It’s impersonal and convenient. You can’t scribble little notes in the front pages or get your favourite author to sign it.

Ease and practicality are, of course, what appeals to younger generations in this fast-paced culture of immediacy. If we hear about a good book we want to be able to download it there and then, not bother with perusing shops or paying extortionate prices.

However, I will admit it is handy to have journal articles or books online; JSTOR is like a best friend in those hours of essay writing need and GoogleBooks a dream for finding untraceable quotes in that hefty novel you can’t bear to flick through one more time. But I believe co-existence is the solution, rather than extinction. Hasn’t it always been?

I would hate to see the totalitarianism of the kindle forced onto unsuspecting book worshippers such as myself, like timeline has been on reluctant Facebookers.

Dreams of having a wall completely lined with books in my first house would be shattered. As would attendance at my first book signing when (and if I ever) write a novel.

I’m aware that the future is online. I go there for pretty much all my news/stealthy procrastination. But fiction should forever remain as something you can touch, browse and collect, never neglecting the value of actuality and authenticity.

Books are, after all, part of a long history of culture. Getting rid of them would be as bad as the burning of millions of publications in Nazi Germany. Kindles render the enjoyment of reading to something seemingly cold and sterile, symptomatic of a world overruled and over-dependent on technology.

As an avid reader and literature student, I hope I don’t live to see the apocalypse of the book. *That awkward moment where this is published online*.


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