I never thought I’d ever say this but e-reading isn’t all that bad.
I’m not talking about reading a New York Times article or going through the occasionally horrible grammar on Times of India (you wonder what the editor is doing) on your smartphone. I’m not talking about reading Facebook or Twitter updates on your mobile device. I’m not talking about texting or Whatsapp-ing. Technically, the above may, in some narrow definition, count as “electronic reading” but that’s not the sort of e-reading I’m taking about.
I’m talking about the sustained and prolonged reading of a central plot or thesis spanning a few hundred pages on an electronic device.
I used to wage loud and indignant wars against e-reading devices, citing the following points:
- The death of tradition!
- E-reading is not real reading!
- What happened to touching a book? Flipping pages?
- Technology is going to ruin us all!
Then I bought my first smartphone and mellowed a little. Occasionally I would rise to defend the demise of print, occasionally I would grow indignant at the thought of bookshops closing their doors, but mostly, I was content in my efficient, comfortable world of bookish apps like Goodreads, Evernote, Time Mobile and Guardian. I was still against reading e-books, but I was quieter about it.
Today, I’ve happily completed Ring by Koji Suzuki. My first e-book is a work of Japanese horror. I have Ryu Murakami lined up, and maybe I’ll finally tackle that Steig Larsson series that has everyone from here to the North Pole positively wetting their undies. But first, I’ll take a breather with my childhood fantasy sweetheart, the Belgariad series by David Eddings. I have only fond memories of Belgarath, Polgara and Garion and encountering them on a slick and shiny page as wide as my palm doesn’t diminish my joy in anyway.
How did my sudden conversion occur? It all started when a good friend of mine (who chooses to remain anonymous) opened up her Calibre server to her friends for a period of 3 days, thereby securing her place at the top of my Very Short List of Friends. There were 329 e-books and PDFs. I thought to myself, “It couldn’t hurt to just look.” I accessed the link on my smartphone, downloaded a few while repeating “It couldn’t hurt” like a mantra in my head. I mean, I just looking right? Before I knew it, I had about 10 shiny new e-books and PDFs on my reading app and I’m thinking – well, I’ve always wanted to read Koji Suzuki’s novel. It really couldn’t hurt.
Funny thing is, it didn’t. In fact, it was great! The novel, I meant. It was a page turner with a gripping premise and the twist about the videotape in the end made me exclaim aloud: “It was a virus! A virus!”
I read with the lights off at night, delighting in the goosebumps that rippled across my skin at every mention of Sadako (ominous, utterly ominous name that is…). Once, I woke up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep any further, and simply turned around, picked up the phone and continued where I left off. I didn’t even need to switch on the light.
Does this mean I’ll stop going to bookshops? No. I fully intend to buy books I consider a work of art, or books that have sentimental value. David Edding’s Belgariad series, for example, is something I definitely want in my library so I can pass it down to my children. Anthologies are a great thing to have in your physical library as well.
For my 26th birthday, my sister bought me The Collected Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges. It is one of my most prized books in my library.
One week ago, a book I ordered through a friend of a friend finally came down from Delhi. Princes & Painters in Mughal Delhi 1707-1857 is full of beautiful paintings, illustrations and photographs, accompanied by well-searched and erudite explanations of the Mughal context. This book is a work of art containing works of art. I cannot imagine reading something like this on an electronic device. I’m not sure I would enjoy it at all.
Then again, it is also my secret desire to collect everything written by William Dalrymple, snuggle with the books, sharp angles and all, roll around in dreams of Delhi and Mughlai magic, and wake up perfectly restored. Because William Dalrymple is my rockstar. But that’s a topic for another day.