My children persuaded me. Indeed, they forced my hand by giving me, as a most generous mother's day gift, a kobo e-reader. I'd begun to wonder how e-reading would feel but resisted the experiment. Now resistance was useless. I had an e-reader pre-loaded with a hundred books.
When they chose a kobo, my children respected my concerns. I do my best to avoid Amazon and won't have anything to do with the kindle. There are many reasons for this. Amazon has a bad record for its treatment of employees. It avoids paying British taxes. Worst of all, it is trying to take such a position of power in the international marketplace that it risks establishing a near-monopoly position in which it would control authors, editing, bookselling and the way in which people read new books.
A monopoly in the production and reading of books would be a disaster, not just for book-lovers but for all who value history, free thought and the exchange of ideas. Imagine a world where one company provided the only access to the means of reading and also controlled and selected what was available to read. Even if the company began with the most benevolent motives, it would be bound to select certain titles for promotion above others and to give low priority to those it reckoned would be least profitable. (All companies have to take account of economics.) I'm not a great proponent of free-market capitalism but, when it comes to books, I'm with Milton in believing that we get nearest to truth - or progress - when ideas from numerous sources are allowed to clash with one another. My preference for avoiding Amazon is a small act of resistance. And in the matter of e-readers I was particularly determined to avoid Amazon.
As I understand it (and I'm not highly technically aware) mobi - the format used by the kindle - locks readers into the kindle and Amazon. By contrast epub - the rival format - allows users to switch from one kind of reader to another and import books from a range of sources. While this over-simplifies the conflict - it is, for instance, to have a kindle-reader installed on a pc or an ipad - there are plainly problems in Amazon's approach and these are intensified by their offer of better terms to self-published authors who are prepared to make their work available through kindle only. I can't comment on the quality of their books because I shan't be reading them.
For me, the kobo will never supersede books. It does less than them. However it does mean that I can leave the house knowing that I have, at the latest count, 176 books in my handbag. They are mostly 19th century works - free and out of copyright. I have most of them as paper books as well. But there are exceptions. I've managed to find books that are obscure and out of print - and I've obtained books in French that aren't easy to find in England. It's great for bus and train journeys and I'm old enough to appreciate the ease with which I can enlarge the font when my eyes are tired.
So far I haven't read a great deal on my kobo. I enjoyed Bel Ami (in French with the original illustrations) and, in honour of the Dickens bicentenary, I re-read Little Dorritt. Now, attracted by the title, I've turned to Zola's L'Argent. It will take me some time to get used to Zola's sentence structure.
But I've noticed something about reading on the kobo that I hadn't expected. It makes me focus on smaller sections of text - just because the page is smaller than the double spread of a paperback. That means that the books which are most pleasurable are those which are densely written or which require careful attention. The works of Dickens and books in French are ideal but I can't imagine wanting to read a modern thriller in English on my kobo. I can't read poetry on it either - epub seems to lose the layout which is such an important element. So it's a rather old-fashioned means of reading and I'm enjoying its old-fashioned elements.
I wonder if e-readers will last in their present form. I rather hope they do as they're very convenient and a good aid to concentration. But the popularity of multi-media tablets suggests that literature in its wordy form may give way to something more complex, where words, sounds and images are mixed and where pathways through the work are multi-linear and even driven by chance. The literature of the future may mutate into a cross between the experimental novel and the computer game. It may even return to its oral roots and become more of a social and communal experience as readers take the opportunities offered by the internet to read and respond together.