There is a Kindle in our office. It’s lying on a desk, all smug in its sleeky grey glory, as if it’s done nothing wrong at all.
It has though, right? It’s taken aim and fired at all our precious physical books. You see, Kindles might look like a nifty bit of kit, but the anti-Kindle brigade would have you believe that by night these slimline killers stalk independent bookshops, taking out musty old paperbacks like helpless Jedi at the end of Revenge of the Sith.
These people say there’s a great pleasure in reading a book – an actual book (none of this electronic rubbish with, you know, the exact same words) – and then putting it away at the end of that bus ride like a prized possession acquired from, erm, Waterstones. They like holding a book in their hands, which presumably means they spend hours printing off their unread e-mails, Facebook messages, and Twitter feeds in advance of said bus trip.
A Kindle is no different to an iPod, but because books inexplicably carry an intellectual weight the Amazon device is miles more offensive. Nobody really thought twice about condensing their CD collection into one handy device; there were no musos insisting on balancing their gramophone and entire vinyl collection on the handlebars of their bikes purely because they love the smell of old wood.
So what exactly is so wrong with a Kindle? There’s an argument to be made about online sales killing independent bookshops. However, online sales are also killing bookshop chains like Waterstones, which in turn have done much more damage to independent traders over the years than a Kindle ever could.
Perhaps the advent and subsequent ease of e-publishing means the quality of what passes as literature drops. Maybe. But, by the same token, a quality novel that went unnoticed on release can be preserved in e-book format and available to a much larger audience for years to come. The likes of Henry David Thoreau, Franz Kafka and John Kennedy Toole are writers who all received greater attention in death, and through e-books this could theoretically happen to plenty more.
It’d be nice to think the cream always rises, and great talent is always noticed, so long as it has a platform. Kindle, and e-books as a whole, provide one bigger and more durable than ever before.