Ebook melancholy

Our Library CornerAbi and I have always been book lovers, both for the stories within them and as physical items. We have a nice collection of books, probably somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 at the moment. We even designed our living room around the books, giving ourselves what we call the “Library Corner” as shown in the picture. There was a time in the late nineties when our Saturday activity consisted of taking a bus to some part of Edinburgh, and scouring all of the charity shops for 25p second-hand science fiction paperbacks. We had about 2500 books (mostly in boxes) by the mid-noughties, but we thinned the collection substantially before we moved to the Netherlands in 2007.

I was sad, though, when I added Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers Of London to the shelves. I had bought it for taking with us on holiday to France this year, and it is a fantastic book. So good, in fact, that as soon as I finished it, I downloaded Moon Over Soho, the second book in the series, onto my brand new Kindle. And when I finished the second, I downloaded Whispers Under Ground immediately, too.

Rivers of London filed next to Douglas AdamsWhich meant that when we got back home, I could only add the first book in the series to the shelves. It looks lonely there, without its sequels. And the sequels look out of place in my ebook collection without the first book. It’s an awkward half-way situation that emphasizes my ambiguity about ebooks: now that I have a good ebook reader — a Kindle, as opposed to an iPad — I do actually like reading ebooks on it. But I also want to own the books-as-physical-objects for my library. What do I do: buy both?

Abi and I both have (or at least had) a dream of growing old surrounded by books, in a house with a library, not just a library corner. What will ebooks do to this dream? From a practical standpoint, I can easily see myself preferring to read ebooks rather than physical books very soon. Publishers and authors are reporting large percentages of their sales coming from ebooks now, and some (self-published) novels I’ve read recently are only available electronically. Just like MP3s replaced CDs, I think it’s inevitable that the convenience of ebooks will trump their shortcomings, and they will become the default reading format. A bookcase full of physical books will be an interior design feature for evoking a late 20th Century vibe, rather than a household standard. Having a library will mark you as an eccentric.

I like to think that I will continue to buy physical books, and that our library will keep growing. But it was a very long time before I inserted Ben Aaronovitch at the very start of the alphabet, ahead of Douglas Adams. How long will it be before I place another book in that spot, if ever?