When I worked in book publishing in London in the late 1980s, there was much discussion about how the (then) new technology of electronic typesetting would kill off the printed book within a few years. Well, it didn’t happen then. Publishers, writers and readers have had about 30 years in which to prepare ourselves for the possible death of the printed book.
I’m still not prepared, though. I love the physical object of the p-book. And so do lots of others.
I was interested to read writer and book collector Julian Barnes in The Guardian Weekly saying that he thinks the p-book will survive, albeit it in altered form. The day after reading that, I read ‘Touch of Class’ by Robert Collins in The Weekend Australian Magazine, where he describes some wonderful ‘books’ that you can read on your iPad, like Eliot’s The Waste Land and Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, complete with sound recordings, vision of the original manuscripts, glossaries, extra information like photos, videos and scholarly articles. They sound pretty good. I will probably buy the Eliot one day, though I won’t be tossing out my scruffy old self-annotated copy of his Selected Poems.
I love what Barnes said about reading near the end of his Guardian article: ‘When you read a great book, you don’t escape from life; you plunge deeper into it. There may be a superficial escape – into different countries, mores, speech patterns – but what you are essentially doing is furthering your understanding of life’s subtleties, paradoxes, joys, pains and truths. Reading and life are not separate but symbiotic. And for this serious task of imaginative discovery and self-discovery, there is and remains one perfect symbol: the printed book.’