Monday, January 12, 2015

The Print Revival

It seems to me a good omen for the new year.  Waterstones, which is the last remaining proper bookshop chain in Britain, has announced that while ebook sales have faltered over the last few months, sales of real books have greatly increased.

Waterstones seemed doomed before the current manager, the brilliant James Daunt, took over. It was seen as another step on the road to ruin when he started selling Amazon Kindles and downloads from the stores, but he did it on the principle of 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.' He was more than justified and he is bullish about Waterstones' future, planning to open new stores.

But there was no denying the glee in his voice when he was able to say that the imminent death of the printed book had been indefinitely postponed. Foyles, the world-famous bookshop in Charing Cross Road which has just massively expanded the store, sounded pretty happy about their figures too.

Of course, Christmas sales probably had a lot to do with it. Wrapping up and handing over a book as a present feels very different from telling someone you've put one on their Kindle. But don't get me wrong, I have nothing against ebooks; they've done me proud in hugely expanding my readership.

It's just that when I read one myself, I always feel it's like smoking without inhaling. (At least, I imagine it is. When I was a student I did a lot of waving around of Balkan Sobranie Black Russian cigarettes when I could afford them and puffing, but never quite mastered the next stage without the violent coughing and streaming eyes bit – death to the sophisticate image.)

I might read the sort of book I'd take on a long plane journey on my reader, but I would feel it was a terrible waste to do that with a book I knew I would savour, and I wouldn't have it to put it on my bookshelf afterwards where I could nod at it affectionately in passing, like a familiar friend. I know I'm old-fashioned but it's reassuring to discover that there are lots of other old-fashioned  people too.

My favorite book this Christmas wasn't given to me, but to my six-year-old granddaughter. It was The Book With No Pictures, by BJ Novak, and it is wonderful. Those of you who have small children or grandchildren may know it already, but if not, go out and get it. 

It's for reading aloud. Its shtick is that the adult has to read exactly what is on the pages: 'After all, if a book has no pictures there's nothing to look at but the words on the page. Words that might makes you say silly sounds...In ridiculous voices.'

It made for a lovely family occasion, all of us gathered round roaring with laughter at my son-n-law's efforts to comply. My granddaughter's thank-you letter said, 'I don't know what this book's about but it's great.'

She has a Nook but it's seldom in use while the favourite books piled in the bookcase a worn to bits.
I think she's starting the sort of love-affair with books that I developed at that age. I do wonder if I'd really have fallen in love with a machine?.

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