When to Kindle and when not to Kindle, that is still the question. In a touching article in the New York Times recently, Nick Bilton wrote about how, after the death of his mother, he found he was “bound in spirit and print” to her through her love of books. “She spoke passionately about being able to smell the pages of a print book as you read, to feel the edges of a hardcover in your hands,” Bilton wrote. “And that the notes left inside by the previous reader (often my mother) could pause time.” He describes how she gathered a library of more than 3,000 books and scoffed at his embrace of the Kindle.
That was me, not all that long ago. Books were king. However, after a tentative start I now couldn’t live without my Kindle. It comes with me almost everywhere and when it doesn’t its alter ego is available on my iphone. But I have found out that there are undoubtedly certain books which I can only enjoy in the printed form. Very occasionally, it is the special physicality of the book, like those produced by Pushkin Press, that makes the difference. But other than that there seems no rhyme or reason. I’ve enjoyed numerous classics on Kindle (although Don Quixote and Shakespeare only work for me when I can feel the paper beneath my fingers). Crime novels and thrillers are perfect for Kindle but perversely I like travel books I can hold.
Ishiguro has to be in print but Murakami (except Strange Library for obvious reasons) is fine on screen although I always end up buying the book as well. Peter Carey, Kindle; Helen Garner, print; Short stories are great on Kindle (except for Tove Jansson and Lydia Davis); Tim Winton and Louise Erdich, book; Alice Munro, Richard Ford, Edward St Aubyn, Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Kindle. Hilary Mantel, interestingly, works equally well in both forms. Ditto most non-fiction.
You can see the pattern. There is no pattern.
Across the road from my home is a specialist book binder who lovingly creates works of art irrespective of the actual content. As well as several appropriately battered leather armchairs and collection of vintage ink wells, she has bookcases of old editions, including many in french. To see them was to immediately conjure up the image of my mother, who was half french and had a collection of books in language, sitting in front of the fireplace, labrador at her feet, reading. I wondered if, in ten or 15 years time, I would open a “book” on my Kindle and be engulfed by such visceral memories.
At the end of Bilton’s article he tells how, as his mother approached her final days, she asked him to get her favourite book, Alice in Wonderland. “She wanted to write something inside the cover for my unborn son, whom she now accepted she would never meet. After a brief introduction, she wrote one simple truth: ‘May your life be filled with beautiful words. Love Grandma’. She never specified whether those words should be print or digital.”