It is the classic dilemma : I like the convenience of eBooks but I love wandering around Bookshops. My adoption of eBooks was a bit of an accident. Convinced that no digital download could ever last a round in the ring with a "proper" paper/cardboard/leather - bound book, I undertook an experiment about a year ago in order to prove that Kindles couldn't hold a candle to a real book. I got myself a Kindle and made one of my famous resolutions to abandon paper books for three months and live entirely on a digital diet. At the end of the three months I rushed back into a bookshop, bought a pile of real books and wrote a post in praise of paper. It was, however, what happened after the experiment was over that was interesting. Within a week of holding one of those semi-obese volumes in my aching hands whilst trying to drop off to sleep, and within a few days of carting around a book the size of a brick, I had arthritis in my hands and a dislocated shoulder joint. I longed for the days of my feather-like Kindle that could carry a library with the lightness of a Victoria Sponge. I dusted the Kindle down, consigned the heavy tomes to the bookshelves and haven't looked back since.
Although I can be easily persuaded to abandon paper and board in favour of paper-white screens; book shops are a different matter. Show me a man or woman who claims that browsing the Amazon on-line book-store is a pleasurable experience and I will show you a scoundrel. You can't pick things up, flick through the pages or come close to absorbing the very soul of a book by viewing the subliminal pattern of black type on white page. You can't discover a new author, a new hobby, or a new life-partner by accidentally skipping to the next row of the Dewey Decimal bookshelves. And perhaps most importantly of all, you can't guarantee that some silver-titled bargain is not a piece of self-indulgent plastic fronted drivel : the literary equivalent of singing an aria in a bath. So I was reduced to doing what so many of us have probably done (and been ashamed to confess it), I would browse around bookshops, locate the book I wanted, and then scurry away like some adolescent felon and buy it on-line. After a few months of this approach to book-buying I carried a mild form of guilt around with me, and although this might not have been as heavy as an unabridged version of David Copperfield, it was a debilitating weight on my conscience.
It was therefore a delight to discover yesterday, as I surreptitiously crept around my local branch of Waterstones trying my memorise titles and authors for later ordering on-line, that they have embraced changing technology and come to terms with not only the e-Book, but also the Kindle hegemony. Notices announced that I could now use their in-store WiFi to order Kindle copies of books I saw on the shelves which would be downloaded there in the shop. You got the books at Amazon prices and the bookshop got a cut of the profits. One of the bookshop assistants talked me through the ordering and download process - which was both simple and very quick - and my residual guilt evaporated like a Spring morning mist. By the time I had left the shop I had added three new volumes to my digital library (the titles are being used to illustrate this post), and I could stroll back to my car without a weight either on my arms or on my conscience. I suspect I have seen the future, and it downloads rather well.