I used to have a dream that one day I would have my own little bookshop. It would be like Hugh Grant’s in Notting Hill (but profitable, obviously), in some quirky corner of London, and it would be a Hispanic themed shop, with a tapas bar in the back and regular evening talks from esteemed professors about Spanish and Latin American culture. I had it all planned out; it was going to be amazing.
Unfortunately, there were two flaws in this great plan. One is that I didn’t have the first clue how to go about opening a bookshop, let alone the funds to do it. And the other was that it was around that time that the Kindle happened. Now the bookselling industry has changed almost beyond recognition, with many small bookshops, and even some big names like Borders, disappearing for good, and publishers having to rapidly change direction to keep up with the growing demand for e-books, rather than real books.
I remember having a heated argument with one of my colleagues, only a few years ago, in which I declared with the utmost confidence that I wouldn’t get a Kindle (or equivalent). I love books; I always have, and I couldn’t see how words on a screen would ever be the same as the real thing. But then again, I also told him I wouldn’t ever get an iPhone, and look how that turned out.
I’m now on my second Kindle, and this week for the first time I started a dramatic clear-out of all my old books. This is phase one of a project to get rid of all unnecessary clutter in my flat. I’m a bit of a hoarder and terrible at getting rid of things; there are boxes under my bed that have been there since I moved in to my flat, nearly five years ago, and that I haven’t opened once. So I decided the time had come to do something, while I can still get in my front door. I made a list of nearly 200 books and offered them to anyone who wanted them. Needless to say, my book club had a field day with this, but I still have well over 100 to dispose of (no, not literally – I’m going to donate them to charity).
Getting rid of my books, some of which I’d read several times and (almost) all of which I’d loved, made me stop and think. Like I said, I’m on my second Kindle, because I wore the first one out. And it’s great. Firstly, because of the aforementioned issue with space. I’m not sure how many books I’ve bought since I made the switch, but I can safely say that I’d probably need to have moved house by now to fit them all in if I’d bought hard copies.
Secondly, I commute to work in London, spending an average of about four hours a day travelling to and from the office, and I can’t be without something to read. The Kindle is light and easy to carry; I have an unfortunate love for big fat books (Game of Thrones, anyone?), which was always a bit of a problem before. If I had to choose between taking lunch or taking a book to work – the book would win every time. And of course there used to be a difficulty if I set out in the morning with only a few pages left in my current read. Did I take two (big fat) books to work, or risk spending some of my journey looking out the window, or, even worse, talking to people…? No longer an issue in the wonderful world of Kindle, although a colleague of more advanced years did once ask me if it got heavier the more books I put on it. (It doesn’t, by the way.)
There are other practical considerations too. For instance, my new Kindle has a light, so if I’m sharing a room with someone and they want to sleep, I can still read without disturbing them. And of course there are many books for sale on Amazon for 99p, or even free. Shortly after getting my first Kindle, I bought War and Peace for 89p. I haven’t read it, but that’s not the point.
The fact remains that a Kindle is not a book. There’s not the same feeling of anticipation when you open the first screen of an e-book that you get the first time you open a new book. And browsing the Amazon store is just not as much fun as spending hours in a bookshop. I’m old-fashioned; I still buy CDs even though I very rarely play them and generally transfer them straight to my iPod – I like to have something physical to add to my collection.
I also find that a lot of the joy in books is being able to share them with people. Nowadays when I enjoy a novel, all I can do is tell my friends and recommend that they buy it themselves. And I do that a lot; I reckon Amazon should pay me commission. I’d much rather be able to just hand my friend a copy, but I can’t.
What else? Well, you know how they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? These days I can’t, even if I wanted to. I also can’t very easily skip to the end (not that I’ve ever done that, obviously), or flick back to check on something that happened earlier. And who can forget our only ‘celebrity book club’ meeting, when Elizabeth Haynes signed everyone’s book – except mine and one other person’s, because we had Kindle versions. I did get an electronic autograph, but it wasn’t quite the same. And then I got a real autograph from her later, when she invited us to her book launch – have I ever mentioned that…? 😉
Overall, I think the Kindle decision is a head and heart thing. If you’ve no sentimental attachment to books, then getting an e-reader of some kind is a no-brainer. But if the opposite is true, it may be a harder choice. In an ideal world, I’d still be reading real books. Of course, I’m not sure it counts as an ideal world if you’ve had to move out of your flat because there’s no space for you any more…
I still think my bookshop would be amazing though. So if anyone out there has business experience and a bit of spare cash, along with a willingness to invest in a business that’s almost certainly doomed to failure, please get in touch. It’ll be fun while it lasts.