Thursday, 24 February 2011

Ten Things I Hate About eReaders

When I go into a bookshop and see the eReader promotional stand, I want to kick it. Hard. I make loud declarations, like, “These are evil devices. Stealing the soul of literature…” and  “Only pretentious people use eReaders. They’re not really reading. They’re just standing there posing.” 

Husband ducks away from me down the nearest aisle, nervously flicking through anything to hand, be it the Aga Cookery Book or The Guide to Organic Baby Birthing for Vegans until I’ve finished my little rant.

Recently he’s taken to suggesting that perhaps he might like an eReader, but I know he’s only doing it to start a debate; we like to discuss such things loudly and forthrightly on long car journeys. 

So here is my list. Ten things I hate about eReaders. The list has been substantially edited, to preserve sanity; some of my reasons were, if I’m completely honest, bordering on petty. But the ones that remain, I feel, are totally valid.

1. E-readers don’t smell like books.

2. If you leave your eReader on the bus, you will feel very upset and spend hours on the travel hotline trying to get through to lost property. If you leave a book on the bus, you feel mildy annoyed but hope someone deserving will pick it up and read it.

3. You can’t borrow eReaders from the library and return them with curious little pencilled notes down the margin for the next borrower to puzzle over.

4. You can’t visit the home of an eReader advocate and make random, wild assumptions about their personality by looking at the books on their shelves. You would have to pinch their digitized library for that.

5. eReaders give nothing away about the journey you’ve taken with a book. No dog ears, smells or smudges. They don’t express a life shared with a story. In the future, people won’t lovingly pass on the battered books they read repeatedly as kids.

6. eReaders threaten the survival of our little buddy the humble Silverfish, who survives on polysaccharides, paper and glue.

7. eReaders are expensive and perpetuate the advantage of those with money over those without and are being dallied as an catalyst to speed up cuts to library services. A politician interviewed on the radio recently suggested that libraries would become redundant as more people took to eReaders, using this to justify their closures. He failed to see that the whole point of libraries is free access to texts, learning and technology for all. He had the cheek to suggest libraries could be run by volunteers. However well-intentioned and eager, volunteers will never replace our brilliant librarians. I wish I had noted the politician’s name. I would write a twisted little story with his name thinly disguised as the baddy who comes to a slow, sticky end, probably involving a swarm of bees, and stoning with faulty eReaders.

8a. An eReader will break if my cat sits on it.

8b. If I drop an eReader in the bath it won’t be fixed by a couple of hours wrinkling dry on a radiator.

9. You can’t browse for books with an eReader. Yes, I know They say you can. But I like to get off my bum and go to an actual shop and explore shelves of actual, tangible books and I like to actually open their actual pages, and smell and feel...

 10. They rely on a battery which is bad for the environment, and impractical for camping / far flung travel / power cuts / if you forget to charge it. And to be honest, I struggle to remember to charge my phone.

However, because writing is supposed to be ‘What I do now…’ I ought to be able to see the other side of the (electronically distributed) story. What if, for example, I have a character who is heavily into tech? And in her hi-spec airport-scattered flat she had replaced all her books with a large projected digital bookcase. She never leaves home without her eReader; she wouldn’t dream of it and doesn’t know how she lived before. How on earth could she read words off an actual bit of paper, placed there in actual printed ink. How did she manage before when she couldn’t change text font to her exact preference? Could I stop my sneering disregard for eReaders from sneaking, commando style, into the text?

So, let’s see if I can present the other side of the argument.

Things that aren’t so bad about eReaders:

1. They save on shelf space.

2. They are shiny and make you feel superior and cool (a bit like that kid at school in the 90’s who got a Gameboy before everyone else.)

3. They don’t melt in the sun and fall apart.

4. They don’t require as many trees to be cut down to make them.

5. Unlike your favourite book, you won’t lend your eReader to a friend (why would you?) then spend the next few years wondering how you can ask for it back without sounding rude and petty, or stealthily sneaking through their book case.

So, they have their place. And I’m going to have to suck it up because I'll probably get given one for Christmas when they get cheaper. I’ll mutter darkly about it, whilst secretly enjoying the eNote-scribble facility or authentic page-turning soundFX.
And, ultimately, if someone published me, and I ended up on an eReader, I wouldn’t be that cross. In fact, I’d probably kiss them. Everyone has their price.  

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Christmas, Chutney and Dead Chicks

And would you believe it… January is over. I won’t go on about how this month has flown by. I reserve that sort of banter for church coffee mornings and jumble sales. Instead I’m looking briefly back over one shoulder, then squinting forward into the near future.

Christmas was a beautiful thing. For several reasons.

I was thrilled to do a reading at the National Short Story Day in Manchester. This was the first of a fantastic UK wide event, held annually on 21st December - the shortest day of the year. See what they did there? It promised to be ‘a celebration of prose’s short-yet-perfectly-crafted form’ and it was. Comma Press hosted the event at MaDlab in the Northern Quarter; a quirky gem of a venue which required eagle eyes and a secret knock to gain access - only the coolest literary types, or the most determined wannabes (i.e. me) got in. There were two other fantastic writers: flash fiction master and novelist David Gaffney and poet, writer and accomplished performer Michelle Green. I read second, after David’s brilliant PowerPoint flash fiction and before Michelle’s evocative and moving story extract. I like to think I was a suspicious, untested filling in an otherwise delectable sandwich (think own-brand squeezy cheese on ciabatta roll – uncertain, but it could just work) People clapped at the end which is always a good sign (unless it’s slow and menacing) and I was totally thrilled to be appearing with two great, established writers and to have the opportunity to read my work. And the Gluhwein was delicious. It was a superb event and one to watch out for next December.
What else made Christmas? Singing our annual rendition of Fairytale of New York with my brother and sister-in-law until the neighbours complained. We were delighted to see them (brother and sis, not neighbours, although they’re very nice, too) as they’d flown in on a pause from their sailing trip, currently stationed in Sicily on their beautiful boat, Planet. My sister-in-law is also a writer, so we had lots of time to rant about semicolon abuse; and plot how we would both bombard Mslexia magazine with submissions until they caved in and accepted our work.

Finally, it wouldn’t have been Christmas without mass chutney making.
Every year I make chutney and gift it to anyone who I think is too polite to decline it. Every year I have the same anxiety dream that I have somehow bred botulism in the sterilised jars and wake in a cold sweat. I then go downstairs and make a large cheese and chutney sandwich, eat it and sit nervously waiting for signs of paralysis. All clear this year.

Now, looking forward to the weeks ahead, I will be developing a themed short fiction collection, and flinging stories out, until something sticks. And applying for Come Dine With Me.

Today, I’m working on a short story that features, briefly, the decomposing carcasses of garden birds. It’s an unsavoury little tale. Uncertain how long it would take for the flesh of a small bird to entirely disappear, and in the name of research, I googled for images of ‘decaying sparrows’ and ‘rotting starlings’. No doubt the googlegods in their silicon e-tower have my card marked. At least I wasn’t looking up dead chicks. I think that’s a different thing entirely.