Touch and feel

So much of bad news around that you feel bruised: the conflict between nationalists and anti-nationals; the slanging match between the ‘bhakts’ and ‘liberals’; the daily showdown between TV anchors and their guests. Hardly anything to make you smile, other than those oh-so-cute videos on Facebook that make you want to instantly own a dog or a cat.

But this evening, I read something that somewhat lifted my sagging spirits: a piece in The Independent that was headlined, ‘Bookshops are back — because you cannot meet a lover on your kindle.’ The article cheered the opening of a new bookshop in London called Libreria, which is equipped not only with a whisky bar but also a printing press, just in case the proprietors decide to turn publishers as well.

One never imagined that the opening of a bookshop would make news. For that matter, one never thought that even the closure of bookshops would make news. The closures were reported because they indicated a definite trend that online-ordering and e-books were throwing the physical bookshop out of business. And now, the news of new bookstores opening — Amazon has already opened its first brick-and-mortar store, and is reportedly planning to open 300 to 400 more such stores — confirms the reversal of the trend.

It is not difficult to see why, at least as far as books are concerned, the physical shop — and, therefore, the physical book — is reclaiming lost ground.

Books have always served as an escape from reality, and when reality itself goes online — from paying bills to buying groceries to forging friendships — you want to hold something at the end of the day that is not a gadget. What can be more pleasurable than putting away the phone at night, having responded to the last message received on WhatsApp, and picking up a book?

Reading an e-book, on the other hand, would be only an extension of what you have been doing all day: staying glued to the screen.

I have a personal dislike for the e-book. Some months ago, I spotted the Kindle version of my first book, which was published in 2009, occupying the no. 1 position in the ‘travel writing’ category of — and it sat on that position for eight consecutive weeks. Had the paperback form of the book (which lagged way behind, sometimes at no. 18, sometimes at no. 52) achieved that feat, I would have thrown a party, but the success of the e-book, selling for a measly Rs. 63 during those eight weeks, did not mean a thing to me. It neither made me rich nor massaged my ego: if anything, I felt myself reduced to being a PDF file.

Also, when you buy an e-book, you don’t let others in the family see what you are reading, because it lies hidden in your Kindle device or iPad. Even if your device contains 500 books, it means nothing to those around you, because they remain invisible. But when you possess physical copies of those 500 books, you automatically build a decent library at home, immensely important for inculcating the reading habit in children. If they don’t see books, they won’t get curious about books, and if they don’t get curious about books, they will never read one.

For a writer too, the sale of 500 physical copies would mean visibility in 500 homes. Visibility is vital because, as I said, it can lead to curiosity, which, in turn, can earn the writer new readers. Some of the readers eventually become writers, driven by the ambition to see their name too, someday, on the spine of a book.

[Source:- The Hindu]