Thursday, January 14, 2010

The best-designed product since 1471*

Fine. I get it. The Kindle is cool. Wireless, PDF-reading, books, yada yada. They are sexy little machines that are perfect for people like me who usually carry around a book or two, and take a stack away on holiday. I'll consider the Apple e-reader device once it's out there. But that won't stop me investing in books.

With the December closure of our local Borders, I've become dependent on Amazon again. (Waterstones is the other option, the same Waterstones that wouldn't hire me for Christmastime help in 2008 because 'your experience does not match our requirements'; no, I'm not yet over it.) That fresh scent of glue and ink, the feel of feathery pages, the echo of boxes of literary treasures, stacked upon each other in the glorious warehouse of words is one of the most beautiful sensations possible. I love the feel of books, the energy surrounding them, the enticing blurbs on the outside which hint at the inside, even the tiny little author photographs. The book will always be the most portable and reliable form of entertainment.

When I worked for MoodLogic a decade ago, people were reluctant to give up their CDs and albums for .mp3 technology. Tradeshow panels were filled with people on both sides of the e-fence, some welcoming the dawn of digital music and others mourning the death of the rock star and the record label. Then the iPod came along. I was an avid CD collecter; at its height, my collection included over 3000 CDs that I lovingly alphabetized, each with its matching index card and entry in an Excel file. Now they're all on an external hard drive that is smaller than, well, a paperback book. I used to sit for hours analyzing liner notes and lyrics; it's rather sad that I don't miss the liner notes at all.

But CDs never really held the same magic as a book. Perhaps it's due to my parents' musical formats; we had boxes of reel-to-reel tapes, 8-tracks, and cassettes. The format never really bothered me as long as I could hear the music. But books were always books. They always held a world between two thick covers, and that world would be the same even if I had changed.

Much as I love Amazon, it's out of necessity rather than choice. The closest independent bookshop to my house is a 40-minute drive away. We do have a wonderful secondhand shop housed in a converted church with a huge peat fire in the middle, but it lacks the new releases and the variety of an independent shop. The world is a better place with indie bookshops, like Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, where I took the above photograph in the autumn of 2007.

I get it. Digitization of books is here to stay. Apple will undoubtedly release a super-sexy, sleek, beautiful product of e-loveliness. And I'll probably get it and love it. But it will never replace the look, feel, and smell of the best-designed product. Since 1471.


Erik R. said...

At least you have The 'Zon. There is no, and, while some books will, most other stuff won't ship to Spain from

Jason said...

The tablet is coming.... and is set to kill off Kindle before its been given half a chance... (if you believe the blogs)