My wife gave me a Kindle for my birthday. I was sceptical but willing. At first I thought to download (that is, have her download – my IT skills are few), some Conrad, Hardy and Trollope, not (shudder) Henry James. These classics are available at minimal or no cost. I was in a mood for cheap self-improvement.
Where better to start than Lord Jim, which I’d loved when young? First benefit of the Kindle – you can increase the font size to something comfortable. The Introduction, academic and stuffy, put me off, but the novel itself defeated me completely. I found the style wordy and slow, the philosophical asides ponderous and the rendering of colloquial speech unconvincing. I decided not to risk disillusion with Hardy and Trollope.
The Kindle lay fallow for a while until it came time to visit a daughter in New Zealand. No more stuffing books into bags. I like Helen Garner’s journalism and non-fiction such as The First Stone, so I opted for Joe Cinque’s Consolation about which I had heard good things. Downloaded at a modest cost, about the same you’d pay for a second-hand copy. Forewarned, I took a skinny book along – Robert Graves’ Goodbye to All That (still hankering after my youth), because you can’t use an electronic device for 20 minutes before take-off and landing, and the idea of sitting with nothing to read for 20 minutes, well, you know …
I admired the book and enjoyed everything about its electronic format. Clicking felt much the same as turning the pages to me; you can’t lose your place and you can read in a light breeze without the pages being ruffled.
I’ve since read quite a few e-books – notable among them Katherine Franks’ Crusoe, about Daniel Defoe and the making of the literary image of the castaway; Andrew Wilson’s excellent study of the survivors in Shadow of the Titanic; Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, being reread to prepare me for the film, and the only Flashman I’d missed – Flashman on the March. I was in a rehab hospital for most of this reading after a losing encounter with a truck. The Kindle came into its own. I could read in a poor light and not have to juggle books on the bed tray. There were a couple of minuses – small, old photographs did not come up well; footnotes and references were grouped at the end, making it irksome to check on them while reading, and going back to make sure of a point was tricky without pagination.
While in the hospital I also read a paperback of Tom Keneally’s The Playmaker which I’d enjoyed when it came out and admired even more this time. I also failed to stay the distance with Andrew Wilson’s biography of Patricia Highsmith, Beautiful Shadow as an e-book. The point is, the joys and let-downs of reading are the same in either format.
I am a convert. I’ve read David Cannadine’s fascinating Ornamentalism, a new take, for me, on British Imperialism and am now steaming through Robert Lyndon’s blockbuster historical novel Hawk Quest. Nevertheless, although I live in a small house with limited space for books, I’m sure that, over time, some hardbacks and paperbacks will still find a place.