Despite reports of its imminent demise, it would appear that reading is very much alive as we prepare to exit the first decade of the twenty-first century. While the advent of electronic ‘readers’ has been cursed by some as the end of books – and in a few extreme cases, civilisation – the reality is that the new reading platforms may in fact be the re-launch that many books have been waiting for.
With sales of the Amazon Kindle and Apple’s iPad each sitting around the ten million mark already, it seems that more people than ever are reading books – including classic literary texts, most of which are out of copyright and therefore free to download – bringing many texts, which would otherwise be collecting dust, to a whole new readership. English professor John Sutherland of University College London describes the phenomenon as ‘creating an immense public library without walls’, adding that ebook readers are ‘the saviour of book reading, not its death.’
The trend is only likely to increase in 2011 as Google brings its eBooks to the UK. Already operating in the US, Google eBooks will work in tandem with the new Google eBookstore which has more than 3 million books available. Uniquely, it would seem, Google eBooks are designed to be ‘open’, meaning that they are compatible with a range of devices from netbooks to smartphones to tablets and e-readers. You can buy, store and read Google eBooks in the cloud. Which means you can access your ebooks like you would messages in Gmail or photos in Picasa – using a free, password-protected Google account.
Personally, I don’t own an e-reader yet, but I’m guessing it’s just a matter of time. I do know someone, however, who needs to read like most of us need to breathe, and her relationship with her new iPad has been a revelation over the past few months. Already they are inseparable. Apart from the obvious advantage of all her books in one place, the sharpness of the text, the clean lines of the device and the built-in dictionary are all part of the general appeal. She did appreciate though, on Christmas morning, a beautifully wrapped, crisply-new, paper and card, touchy-feely copy of Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain. Books aren’t dead. We’re only discovering new ways to deliver them.