I wonder if you were one of the many people who received an eBook Reader from Santa this year, or if like most of us you were still tearing the wrapping paper from the traditional versions of the book, while wondering whether all those pre-Christmas hints had borne fruit. In either case, it looks likely that the electronic book will become increasingly popular this year and may well replace the paper and ink collections on our bookshelves altogether. The opportunities for schools arising from the invention of the ebook are well documented in an excellent recent blogpost by Ollie Bray, who talks specifically about the publication of Harper Collins’ 100 Classic Book Collection for the Nintendo DS. For a cost of around £15 for the software, a school library could easily afford to stock a few copies and lend them out to students, many of whom will already own a DS.
The advantages of ebooks are not hard to find. There is an obvious benefit to the environment when a hundred books can be printed on a chip rather than a forest of trees, and reading a handheld device may well be cool enough to encourage otherwise reluctant readers. There will be those traditionalists of course who will argue that nothing could ever replace the thrill of curling up with a proper book, and the sensual pleasure of turning a good quality page of paper and ink should not be underestimated. Interestingly, a quick search on Amazon reveals that one of the accessories already available for some E-Readers is a leather cover (true!) and the Bebook Reader is advertised as having a “unique paperlike display and eInk technology.” How long before we can buy the electronic version of those rare first editions complete with musty smell on opening?
Interesting as the technological advances are, however, for me there is another issue to consider. When you look at the list of 100 classic texts, there is a depressing familiarity about it, determined I suspect by the freedom to publish rather than the quality of the text in many cases. Scotland for example is represented exclusively by half a dozen texts from Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, and it appears that the label “classic” is for life, much in the same way that so many of our media celebrities become famous for being famous long after we have forgotten whatever it was they were once good at. I would love to hear your thoughts on what “classic” texts are missing from the Harper Collins list.