AS A bookseller, the perceived challenge posed by modern technology in general, and by the Kindle in particular, to the continued existence of the book is a matter of professional and personal concern.
The professional concern stems from the strongly held conviction that bookselling is something much more than a commercial undertaking, the mere retailing of books, it is an art.
It is a conviction formed, after 40 years behind the counter, by the growing realisation that a bookshop is the most democratic of places. Every genuine writer deserves space on its shelves. Every reader has individual tastes and different reasons for reading any particular title. The bookseller’s job is to allow authors access to their public and to the widest possible audience and the reader access to the specific book s/he requires and access to new authors and books that will enhance his/her mental armoury and quality of life. The bookshop should provide its clientele the full book buying experience. It is not a task easily achieved or which should be taken lightly.
The personal concern relates to the book as an objet d’art. No more than bookselling being something deeper than a commercial undertaking, a book is not just a collection of words printed on pages bound into one unit, that tell a story or express a point of view. It is a complicated entity with a long and arduous gestation before flowering, this young plant being then nurtured by a series of highly skilled and professional artists such as the publisher, the editor, the proof reader, the book designer, the illustrator, the book binder, the representative, the distributor, and the bookseller before reaching the reader. It is only when the book is opened and its content read that it comes into full bloom or realises its potential.
At first glance, the kindle offers the reader nothing more than a sanitised image with words on it that repeats a story – a corpse of a book stretched lifeless and depersonalised on a digitised mortuary slab. Page after page of this image follows, never changing, so that eventually the pages merge into one forgettable blob of an image, a senseless conveyor belt of words.
A closer look, however, will discover that the Kindle has a number of obvious and not so obvious features that are not only practical but of tremendous use to the book reader.
On the obvious side there is the ability of the Kindle to store the complete text of any amount of books. As people generally catch up on their reading while on holidays, this means they can carry all the books needed in their back pocket and do not have to worry about the extra weight in their luggage. For inveterate readers who are constantly on the road professionally or otherwise, the portability of the Kindle is a godsend.
On the less obvious side, the Kindle user can download the complete text of the Oxford English Dictionary, an invaluable reference tool, free of charge. Given the retail price of this dictionary comes in at €900 or so, and there are many other dictionary and reference books available free to the punter, then this little machine becomes a most useful and inexpensive resource to have in your back pocket.
The reader can also access the dictionary entry for any non understood word s/he may some across while reading any book on the Kindle. Add to this that many other seminal texts such as The Bible are also free downloads, then the Kindle becomes very good value indeed.
There is no doubt that the Kindle is here to stay and will become even more sophisticated in the near future. It will eventually find its niche and its uses as the book has and will continue to do for the foreseeable future. In fact, if there is to be a threat to the future of the book it is more likely to come from the emerging education system where children now leave school without being able to write a simple sentence. The demise of the “3 Rs” may be yet the fatal blow to the printed word.