I’ve spent the last couple of weeks clearing out my parents’ house following the death of my father. It’s depressing but in some ways satisfying. The tip has become my new favorite place. I find myself becoming a bit manic as I’m clearing stuff out, thinking ‘what else can I take to the tip?’, ‘what else can I shred?’, ‘what else can I destroy?’. It’s not like my parents had loads and loads of stuff, but there is a lot of stuff none the less… books, paperwork, old furniture, ornaments, clothing, National Geographic mags, My Little Ponies (and other childhood toys), puzzles, fabric, photographs, hundreds and hundreds of old school slides, the slide projector, shoes… et cetera et cetera. A lifetime’s worth of stuff… now being distributed to the charity shop, the recycling bins and the tip. I think I’ve developed an allergy to ‘stuff’. I was walking past a cheap ‘stuff’ shop in the local shopping centre the other day and I shivered at the sight of shelves and shelves of cheapo lamps, cushions and vases. One day, 90% of them will end up a landfill site. How can we go on, just creating more and more stuff that will then be chucked away?
So, it’s made me think about e-publishing in new light. Despite my debut novel, The Vanity Game
, coming out as an e-book via Blasted Heath in June, I have to admit I have until now been a bit iffy about the whole e-book thing. What would I fill my Ikea Expedit bookcase with if I didn’t read ‘real’ books? What would replace the musty smell of a second-hand bookshop? If I ever made it as an author, wouldn’t I be denied book-signing events if I had no ‘real books’ to sign?
Although I still think I’ll miss hard copy books for some reasons, I’m now imminently going to buy a Kindle. Books might look nice, but they are still just ‘stuff’, and if you collect hundreds and hundreds of the things, when you die some poor fucker is going to have to take them all to the charity shop. And books are very heavy.
It was interesting to hear Jonathan Franzen banging on about e-books and ‘permanence’. He said:
“”a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience”. “Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change,” he continued. “Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do fear that it’s going to be very hard to make the world work if there’s no permanence like that.”
Well the past couple of weeks have made me realise what a stupid thing to say that is. Does Mr. Franzen have nothing in his life other than his processions to give himself a self of permanence? Whilst I’ve been sorting through the house I found a drawer full of all the Christmas cards my parents ever sent to each other, and I sent to them. It was heartbreaking, reading through these, but what could I do with them? I just bagged them up and took them to the paper bank. What was heartbreaking was not throwing away the cards though; it was feeling of love that ran through all those cards, and the realisation that all that love has gone now. I would destroy everything I own to have my parents back. Books cannot recreate that sense of permanence, as great as they are. Certainly, I’m not exactly seeking solace from my grief by flicking through the pages of my copy of ‘Freedom’.
Life is not permanent anyway. As Shakespeare said, ‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage’.
So really, does it matter whether you read a story out of a physical book, or electronically, or whether someone reads it to you, or whether you watch it as a play or film? A great story is something you will always remember, and something that changes you in a small way or change the way you see the world.
So I can’t wait for The Vanity Game to come out as an e-book. I hope people will treasure the story just as they would if they consumed it in any other way.
Bring on the Kindle!