The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Saviour Pirotta: Things that Kindle can't do yet - part two

Saviour Pirotta has written a Lovely personal collection of thoughts and memories, tied together by books:

"James blogged about tatty tv tie in DUSTY OLD BOOKS a while ago. It set me thinking about another thing [in fact, two things] that Kindle can't do yet, and probably never will.

My parents were not the sort to waste hard-earned cash on pressies. They weren't alone. No one I knew when I was a kid ever received gifts, not ones wrapped up in wrapping paper and decorated with ribbons and a gift tag anyway. We all got a bag of fruit and nuts for St. Martin's Day in October, lucky money from grandma for New Year and - if we'd behaved 365 days out of 356 - a gelato for our name Saint's day. [Mine is St Saviour's Day in mid-July, so gelato was a real cool treat]

One Christmas eve, though, my brothers and I all got dressed in our Sunday best and we took the bus to town. My eldest brother was starting secondary school and dad had decided he needed a geometry set. While at the stationer's cum bookshop cum lotto office cum rosary bead seller's, my father was suddenly struck down with a momentary lapse in meanness. He said we could all choose something from the shop.

My brother Lino picked a double pack of card games: Snap and Old Maid. I made a dive for the bookshelves. Now up to that point I only had four books in my precious book collection, mainly because my parents disapproved of any tome that did not have Nihil Obstat printed on the title page. Nihil Obstat is Latin for No Objection, which meant the church had not found anything in the book that might corrupt a susceptible mind.

The oldest book I had was a Victorian copy of Kingsley's The Water Babies. It had belonged to my great aunt Agnes, who'd very diligently drawn and coloured in swimming cossies on all the naked water babies combing the rock pools in the ocean. I also had two Ladybird books, one about the Holy Land and another about the USA, where my great aunt had worked as a nanny for a young couple in Hollywood. And I also had - although no one in the house knew about it - a tattered copy of Enid Blyton's The Happy House Children, which I'd nicked from the English RAF family next door just before they left for their new assignment in Hong Kong. This was easily my favourite book so, needing to grab something before my dad regained his senses, I picked The Mountain of Adventure. It was an Armada paperback, and the pride and joy of my collection for years.

Now some time after this, I bumped into the novelist Nicholas Monsarrat [as one does] vainly trying to get water out of a roadside pump the local kids had vandalised. We got talking and he told me that one of the most precious moments in an author's life occurs when he receives a parcel containing advance copies of his latest book. From then on, I used to waste a lot of time wrapping my beloved copy of The Mountain of Adventure in brown paper and pretending I was Mrs Blyton savouring that precious author moment of laying eyes on her latest book for the first time.

Imagine my confusion then, dear blog reader, when years later I walked into the library at my secondary school for the first time and realised that the copy of The Mountain of Adventure my heroine Enid lovingly caressed at that sacred moment of authorship might not have been an Armada paperback like mine, but a hardback book, with a dust jacket and a completely different picture on the cover. What was going on?

The librarian, a very kind jesuit whose patience would be tested to the limit in the five years I was at that college explained the concept of different EDITIONS to me. Major novels, he said, were issued in hardback first, for the cognoscenti who collected books. There might be different editions for book clubs, and different covers to suit the tastes of the English-reading public in various British colonies. If the book proved popular, there would be a paperback editon. And if the novel was made into a film, there would be a tie-in. Some books have had hundreds of different editions, especially the classics that have been around for a long time.

Which brings me, in a very roundabout and self-absorbed way, to my first objection about Kindle. What about different editions? Kindle might issue books with a screengrab for a cover, very much like the kind of artwork you get when you download a song on iTunes. But would that be enough to entice a new reader, to make him want to go back to the novel time and and time again? I don't think so. Book lovers will always want beautiful editions, and that's why I for one will not be forking out for an ereader.

PS: My second objection? You can't really give an ebook for a present. How can you wrap it? What would you put under the Christmas tree, the token, a print-out of the receipt? Bah! Humbug?"

Saviour Pirotta

Thanks, Saviour, for permission to post this on the blog!

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