Thursday, February 20, 2014

Are We Cheating Ourselves?...

When I was young, I read a lot. Anything. My father had a huge library in our house and as a kid, I read everything in it. That’s where it all started. 

As a teenager, I spent days in bookshops, mostly in the second-hand section, looking for cheap copies of Stephen King, Jonathan Kellerman, John Grisham and others. 

I can remember imagining what it would be like to be a writer. To sit there night in night out, trying to work out character arcs and plot lines. Working through a block. Generating something that you knew was going to be wonderful. 
Printing it all off and mailing it to publishers. Trying to find one who would print you. 

Back then, my only connection with the author was what they wrote, how they inspired me, and sometimes a very well crafted photo on the inside back cover with a short bio. 

There was a mystique to authors back then. And, to be honest, I miss it.

The internet has taken the enchantment of authors away from me. I no longer wonder who they are or what they sound like. It is all on their websites for me to see and hear. 
It’s not the same. 
The web has given every Tom, Dick and Harry the chance to say ‘I am an author’ - and for me, it belittles the discipline and the skills that come from those truly worthy of the title. 

In the past, it would have been easier to rub shoulders with A-list Hollywood actors than it would to have access to Patricia Cornwell or Dean Koontz. They were simply a headshot. A picture in a frame. Iconic in the true sense of the word. 

Now, the dynamic has changed. The money that the average Joe might have spent on five top-end authors a few years ago, is now spread across fifty not-so-great efforts on a website.

A 99 cent risk on something that might be good, might be bad, but will more than likely sit somewhere at the low end of the ability spectrum. 
Bought by those who laud Neil Gaiman's "make good art" speech, yet still flitter away money on rubbish that couldn't even get them past the first few chapters. And they do it again and again. A downward spiral of one dollar-funded mediocrity. 
"You get what you pay for!" as the man says.

The online bookstores are still seeing the same if not greater amounts of revenue coming in, but are we cheating ourselves out of the magic? 

I think we are. Which is why I still can’t bring myself to buy books online. I don’t have a Kindle. And while I know it might come across as petty, naive or ‘anti-progress’, I buy my books in bookstores. Proper ones with proper shelves, and a proper smell. 

If a publisher has decided that a book is worth investing in a print run, then that’s usually my benchmark for spending money on it. I can pick it up in my hands, and I can feel how much it weighs. I can experience and appreciate the work that has gone into it. It is a book. 
I find it hard to call a digital representation of a manuscript “a book”. 
There is a tangibility and a value to being able to hold a real one that can never be replaced by a tablet. 
Putting a lifetime of work by Shakespeare or Poe on to a flash-drive the size of a fingernail, is not progress. It is insulting at the very least.

Call that what you will, but for me, we’re losing something very special indeed.