Don’t get me wrong: I like the printed page, but this made me laugh.
The best-selling author [Joanna Trollope] said it was impossible to furnish a room with a library of electronic novels in the same way as a study filled with bound works.
She also claimed the rise of e-books was “homogenising” literature by putting the works of Leo Tolstoy and Katie Price, the glamour model, on the same screen.
Trollope, known for so-called Aga sagas such as The Choir and A Village Affair, said that feeling the weight of a book in the hand and seeing its cover was a vital part of the reading experience. She is chairing the judging panel of this year’s Orange Prize for Fiction and read all 143 submissions in their printed form.
“I read everything in an actual book,” she said. “I have an iPad, but I realised almost immediately that the iPad homogenises all books. Out of respect to writers, you have to read the book in the way in which the author visualised it going out into the world.
“The iPad is a wonderful toy and the Kindle is a brilliant thing to travel with — never again will one find oneself on a Sunday night in Detroit airport with nothing to read — but they are just another way of reading. Discernment is very important. And to get it you have to feel the heft of a book in your hand. You have to know that you are not reading Katie Price, you are reading War and Peace.”
Yes, as someone who spends an inordinate amount of time on the Internet, I understand the nostalgia for heft and texture. Nevertheless, at one time books were inscribed on vellum, and sometimes decorated with actual gold leaf, which, you know, adds a certain amount of solidity. One needed a lectern to read one properly, too. Then paper and the printing press came around.
Madonna’s absurd $100 table book had considerable heft, I seem to recall. Most people don’t read Shakespeare’s plays in a reproduction of the First Folio, though I wish they would. Most absurdly, though, she regards literature as decorative. I’m not saying that most of us wouldn’t like to have the classics in leather-bound, hand-tooled editions, but it seems that this twit thinks that democritisation of literature is not a very good idea. I beg to differ, but then, I am a Yank.
A visit that I paid to the house of a newly-married friend the other day set me thinking. My friend is a man of great wealth and vulgarity. When he had set about buying bedsteads, tables, chairs and what-not, it occurred to him to buy also a library. Whether he can read or not, I do not know, but some average faculty for observation told him that most respectable and estimable people usually had a lot of books in their houses. So he bought several book-cases and paid some rascally middleman to stuff them with all manner of new books, some of them very costly volumes on the subject of French landscape painting.
I noticed on my visit that not one of them had ever been opened or touched, and remarked the fact.
“When I get settled down properly,” said the fool, “I’ll have to catch up on my reading.”
This is what set me thinking. Why should a wealthy person like this be put to the trouble of pretending to read at all? Why not a professional book-handler to go in and suitably maul his library for so-much per shelf? Such a person, if properly qualified, could make a fortune.
DOG EARS FOUR-A-PENNY
Let me explain exactly what I mean. The wares in a bookshop look completely unread. On the other hand, a school-boy’s Latin dictionary looks read to the point of tatters. You know that the dictionary has been opened and scanned perhaps a million times, and if you did not know that there was such a thing as a box on the ear, you would conclude that the boy is crazy about Latin and cannot bear to be away from his dictionary. Similarly with our non-brow who wants his friends to infer from a glancing around his house that he is a high-brow. He buys an enormous book on the Russian ballet, written possibly in the language of that distant but beautiful land. Our problem is to alter the book in a reasonably short time so that anybody looking at it will conclude that its owner has practically lived, supped, and slept with it for many months. You can, if you like, talk about designing a machine driven by a small but efficient petrol motor that would ‘read’ any book in five minutes, the equivalent of five years or ten years’ ‘reading’ being obtained by merely turning a knob. This, however, is the cheap soulless approach of the times we live in. No machine can do the same work as the soft human fingers. The trained and experienced book-handler is the only real solution of this contemporary social problem. What does he do? How does he work? What would be charge? How many types of handling would there be?
These questions and many more I will answer the day after tomorrow.
And if you don’t think that’s funny, please write and tell me why.
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