Battle of the Books?
According to Mark Mason, "A conversation across the centuries" (The Spectator, June 14, 2012), "E-books are going to win" our current-day Battle of the Books:
Anyone who's seen a bus or a train carriage or a café lately knows that: Kindles everywhere, as though they're breeding. And that's as it should be. Stand in the way of convenient technology which people want, and you're in the same position as every refusenik from the Luddites to the newspaper unions of the 1980s. But before the printed book takes its final bow, and retreats to its status as endearing novelty, let's take a look at the sort of experience we're going to miss.Well, Kindle hasn't yet won me over to e-reading of books, but some version of an e-book will overcome my modest resistance, for I'm no refusenik. More of a recusenik, actually, since I tend towards prejudice for the new. My modest resistance is therefore nothing but reluctance to take a side against the so-called 'hard copy' that has long stood me in good stead despite my acknowledged pre-judgment for the shock-troops of the new. I therefore recuse myself from serving as referee to this battle. But let's at least hear Mason out:
A friend recently came across a single volume from an 18th century Spectator series, and knowing of my scribblings for said organ and its website, gave me the book as a present. A little detective work among the dealers in London's Cecil Court put the leather-bound beauty somewhere in the 1780s. (A full set of eight was going for £160 -- my lonely soldier, of course, is worthless.) The collection is of the original Spectator essays produced daily between 1711 and 1714 by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, from which the current magazine (d.o.b. 1828) takes its name. Mine is Volume the Second, containing the essays from June 2nd to September 13th 1711. It measures seven inches by four, the spine is cracked, and if Chanel ever want to create a perfume called 'Stale Dust' they need look no further than these pages for inspiration. At some point in the last couple of centuries -- nearer 1780 than 2012, by the way the ink has faded -- the book has been owned by a person who split up almost every paragraph with forward-slashes between certain sentences. Occasionally the marks occur mid-sentence. My best guess is that they're breathing points. Did the owner recite the essays in the privacy of his room, pretending that he (something tells me it was a he) had penned them himself? Was this the 19th century equivalent of air guitar?That "lonely soldier" seems to have little fight left in him. We see why the e-book will win. But I'm not supposed to be judging. And I have to confess . . . books and I don't have the sort of relationship described by Mason. I'm not that kind of bibliophile. I'm far more interested in what a writing says, and how it says it, than I am in what the writing is written upon. Perhaps if I were a settled, wealthy man of property with a large house, I could develop a love for the physicality of the book, but I'm a man of little means, a gypsy scholar who can't afford to lug along a library.
No offense intended to that sort of bibliophile collector of books, and none but bibliomaniacs might secrete the stink of bilious public offense (yet be privately, secretly thrilled with excessive good humor at one fewer bookish suitor), so I do not doubt that I can get along with those whom I don't truly oppose, whether belonging to the literary clan of O'Phile or O'Maniac.
I'll depend partly on them to part with their money for any books I might write . . .