Print is dead. Well, it isn’t, and may well never die, but the rise and rise of e-readers troubles me somewhat. If only for the fostering of imagination in our little ‘uns.

The recent TV ad for the Kindle, showing young children reading on the thing and talking about why they liked it, made me die a little inside. I’m all for the progression of how we consume written material, but there is just so little romance in seeing a child holding a Kindle. It is hard to imagine a child anthropomorphising an electronic product. The ultimately finite and disposable plastic object is unlikely to have been owned and read by a previous generation when they too were a child. There is no smell, no feel of old, dried-out pages cracking as you turn them. Yes, it’s wonderful that countless classics will be at the fingertips of every child with such a device, and as electronics become cheaper their reach will stretch to include more and more levels of society. But. For me at least, nothing can replace the experience of the printed book. The feel, the smell, the paper quality, the bind, the creases where someone before you bookmarked a page. Surely these elements are vital for the child reading a book, to truly experience what reading is?

I grew up in a house full of books. There was quite an array of classics like The Mayor of Casterbridge, 1984, The Hobbit, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ulysses, the list goes on. Then there were encyclopaedias, dictionaries, Roget’s Thesaurus and random reference books. A true mental playground for a young mind. The beauty of the bookshelf is that Roald Dahl gets to rub shoulders with Dostoyevsky and Joyce.

As much as all of the stories and information fascinated me, I must admit I half-read most of it. What really captivated me was this feeling of physically connecting to the past by picking up an old tome. Was I holding the same book that my mother had held as a child? Who wrote this decades old dedication to my father? Did those who read this passage feel the same feeling of claustrophobia and despair as I did? These questions make reading a book an experience, both physical and mental. The object becomes so much more than the sum of its parts.

A book is a story in itself. It surmounts the words on the page and takes on a life of its own. It’s hard to replace the feeling of reading a 40 year old dedication to your 12 year old father, when you too are 12. Electronic devices just lack that depth of character, that patina that defines older objects. That copy of William’s Happy Days offers me an unbreakable connection to an experience that I shared with my father. And this is nothing that a Kindle could ever dream to replace.

13 Jan 2014