Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bookworms of the world unite

By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 21st September 2010)

I grew up in a house that had more books than furniture. Sometimes when guests came over, we had to offer them stacks of books on sit on. Only the ones we didn’t love, mind you, and were dead certain we’d never read again - not even if we were paid.

Now that e-books have entered the publishing fray, tsunami-like waves of nostalgia are sweeping over the bookworm fraternity. The aroma of paper, fresh ink and the rustle of pages are being romanticised to ridiculous extents. If it carries on like this, we may soon have passionate sonnets dedicated to paper books: “Shall I compare thee to an e-book? Thou art more rustly and smell more divine.” I thoroughly disapprove of this mawkishness. The debate is pointless because e-books can never ever replace paper books. There are practical reasons to own paper books. Consider a few of my arguments:

1. What do you slap a blood-sucking mosquito against a wall with, huh? Try it with an e-book and you’ll hear a sickening crash instead of a satisfying splat. That’s about 13 grand down the drain. It’s cheaper to cure Malaria. Even when you add up those little thank you boxes of chocolate for the hospital nurses.

2. How on earth can you prop up rickety legs of tables or chairs if there are no paper books handy?

3. You can eat like a slob while reading a paper book. It rests so beautifully on the table when aligned with your plate - you don’t require a stand to hold it up. You can’t ever dream of doing this with an e-book, can you? Particularly not if splishy sploshy soup or dal is on the menu.

4. If everybody switches to e-books, how can we tell what people are really, really like? Homes without bookshelves offer no vital personality clues. For example, if you see a line up of books on serial killers, like say, A Criminal History of Mankind, Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper etc, on a colleague’s bookshelf, would you really want to be alone with this person after dark?

5. When you really love a book, you want to share it with your family and close friends. And you can’t lend an e-book unless you part with the entire device. What if the people you’ve lent your Kindle or iPad to are annoyingly slow readers?

6. Can you imagine swearing on an e-book in a court of law?

To be scrupulously fair though, I have to concede that e-books do have some positives. For starters, there are no nasty wriggly silverfish squished between the pages (whew). They are also a boon for people with transferable jobs. You won’t have to pay the packers a small fortune to transport your books – you can carry thousands of them with you in your handbag. You can order them from the comfort of your home and get them instantly, without moping at home for weeks, ageing considerably while you’re waiting for the tardy courier chappie to deliver.

But the most important advantage to my mind is, you may never have to visit a bookshop again. Whenever I visit a bookshop these days, I’m reminded of the movie, You’ve got mail, in which a small independent bookstore run by a family of charming bookworms goes out of business because of competition from a mega bookstore chain that pops up in the neighbourhood. That movie brought scalding tears to my eyes – not because of the soppy love story (well, not just), but because those impersonal bookstore chains are mushrooming in India as well. None of the uniformed assistants at India’s largest bookstores appear to have read any of the books – and when they irritably do a search on the in-house computer for a book you’re looking for, you begin to wonder if some of them can read at all. Sad, because you lose out on warm recommendations and cosy chats and perhaps even an introduction to a brilliant, quirky book you’ve never heard of – that’s what it used to be like in the good old days.

The truth is, it’s not technology that may eventually drive me to e-books, but unhelpful, uninformed bookstore assistants. Bring the cosy bookstores back, and I swear with my hand on a holy paper book that I will never even flirt with the idea of e-books again.


Aman said...

# 4 is actually a very valid point...

rupagulab said...

@Aman: Oh absolutely. I feel VERY passionate about #4!