I have a confession to make. Don't be shocked or judge me harshly. But last week I finally succumbed to temptation ... yes, I could resist not a moment longer: I went and got myself a Kindle e-reader.
Behold! My Kindle - just moments after its arrival, still in its packaging.
The power of this little piece of black plastic and array of microchips is awesome. And perhaps also just a little terrifying. A standard Kindle can hold upwards of around 3000 books. So, in other words, for you youngsters out there in your 40's with a fully stocked Kindle, you would have to read around five or six books a day, every day of your life until the age of 90 to have any chance of getting through them all.
But does it matter?
No, not at all. It is, in fact, a situation very similar to the 19th century country gentleman or aristocrat and his great collection of books. Within his palatial residence he would have a dedicated room, The Library, often containing many thousands of leather-bound volumes. And the same pleasant dilemma would exist. He or she would never be able to read them all either. But it didn't matter.
'The Bookworm' Carl Spitzweg c.1850.
Kindle - the democratisation of literature
For our aristocratic country gent, each of those books he owned was available. They were at his fingertips for reference or entertainment, stimulation or education. They could be dipped into, tasted in small samples or read from cover to cover as desired. It was a great luxury, the envy of many to simply be able to choose - but a luxury in which we can now ALL share.
With the e-book revolution we all have our own great library at our fingertips. It is the democratisation of literature in one giant and very sudden step forward the like of which has not occurred since the advent of public libraries. Perhaps it might even be regarded by historians one day as being on a par with the seismic shift in literacy resulting from the incorporation of movable type in the printing presses of the 15th century.
Person 'A' writes. Person 'B' reads. With nothing in-between
The e-reader brings the author and the reader into a more intimate proximity than we have enjoyed for centuries. There are no more variations in book designs, shapes and sizes, cover conventions or reliance on physical space or 'heft' of a physical book to create an impression, to make a sale or any other commercial consideration that might get in-between the written word and those who read it.
If the work is self-published the situation becomes even more 'minimalist.' There might not even be an editor to stamp their mark on things. There might not be a sales rep' dictating what size it should be or what tone it should strike. All books are equal now in appearance and price. The work of famous authors and those of the obscure, the literature of the past and that of the present - they are all just pure words now on a screen, equal in presentation and availability to every other word that has ever been written. But isn't that a rather fabulous concept!
So far so good
Easy to use, inexpensive, e-books have only been with us a few years. So who knows where all this is going to lead! And although I will always love 'real' physical books, and especially their covers and the skill and art that has gone into designing them, it might not be such a bad thing that the magic of the word in its pure unadulterated form is returning to replace the hype and commercial razzmatazz of the book industry. That's what I have been thinking, anyway, during the past few days as I have become friends with my Kindle. I am enjoying the prospect of working towards my very own gentleman's library of 3000 volumes, therefore, and even going one step further in having it with me in any place I choose - out in the sunshine, lounging on the sofa, and even in a darkened room. So versatile!