Books are dead. In the future no one will read paperbacks, e-books will rule and the only place for paper books will be found will be in a museum.
A couple of years ago I read that statement and felt sure that it was true. I was sad that the books that had given me so much fun as a child would soon be no more. My special favourite was an old battered copy of The Wind in the Willows. It was handed down to me and had passed through the grubby hands of many children before I came to it. At first my father would read me these stories as I lay in bed and I would drift off to sleep as Ratty, bobbing in his little boat, as he rowed down the river.
When I could read myself, I would follow Toad’s adventures with a secret glee, always anxious that poor short-sighted Mole would stumble into some awful trap and be set upon by the creatures of the wild wood. My favourite character of all was Badger. Remember that scene when Ratty and Mole, lost in the dead of night in the wild wood, beset by snow drifts and pursued be weasels, trip over the boot scrapper outside Badger’s house. In minutes, they are beside a roaring fire and eating hot toast and drinking tea.
I would imagine myself, sitting beside that same fire with the kindly old badger, wrapped in his tweed jacket, toes warming in his slippers. There was something magical about that battered old book, with its wrinkled cover and yellowing pages. I can remember its smell, like it was old and mouldy and had sat too long on the window ledge when the rain got in.
I’m glad to say that the truth is that traditional paper books are far from dead. The e-book is here to stay but the paper book is still alive and well. For the first time this year paperbacks outsold e-books. Hopefully the two technologies, the old and the new, can happily co-exist. After all, you can’t wrap up an e-book in paper, peppered with sleigh bells and chubby Santas, and sit it beneath the Christmas tree.
As the paperback lives on so, I hope, its natural home, the bookshop, will prosper. There is a great joy in discovering a little bookshop, tucked away in a village square, where you can wander amongst shelves crammed with romance, adventure. Books full of pirates, jostle with vampires and hard-bitten detectives, all trying to get you attention. All hoping you will pick up their book, open their pages and, for just a few solitary hours, let them live again in your imagination. In bookshops, empires fall only to rise again from the dust, here you can watch a Martian Sunrise or ride with the Mongol Hordes across the plains of Asia.
Now, as writer myself, it’s immensely satisfying to see my book sitting amongst its brothers on the shelves of my local bookshop. You never know who will pick it up and follow the adventures inside. I write a great deal in digital media and love the freedom it gives me but there is something very ethereal about the Internet writing, it lacks the permanence of the real thing, the paper book.
Bookends of Cumbria are now carrying stocks of The Last Hillwalker. Pop in and have a browse. There might even be coffee and cake. What better way to spend an hour.