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Saturday, 16 October 2010

Reading in the Age of Plenty

I have always been a book reader. As a child, and all the way up to my university graduation, I would read pretty well every book that came into my possession. My income was barely sufficient to feed my need for books.

But then I moved into the world of work and salaries, and found I could just buy a book if I felt like it. A single foray into a bookshop might see me coming out with half a dozen new books to read, and the list of unread books started to lengthen.

I still have nearly all of them, piled up in bookcases around the house. For most of them I can even remember where I acquired them. Running the book stall at jumble sales for many years didn't help, as there would usually be some books remaining at the end that I felt inclined to provide a home for.

About the middle of last year I resolved that all new books I bought would go onto a pile in my bedroom, to remind me how much money I was wasting on books that never got read. When one pile had become three piles I decided to pretty well stop buying books until I'd caught up. Somewhat to my surprise this has mostly worked, and the piles are going down. Only Amazon is the loser.

Only now they've brought out a Kindle at a price I'd consider paying (£109). That, plus my natural nerd tendency to want nerd toys, makes me suspect I will soon own one of these devices. But what of my resolution about buying new books? Should I first purchase the eBook versions of the ones on my piles? No. Fortunately I'm too tight for that.

Ah, but I did say I wouldn't 'buy' any new books. Turns out that there are eBooks you don't have to pay for: The Amazon Kindle Store lets you choose from thousands of the most popular classics, all available for free.

Garhh! Are these people mad? The classics! These are books I've spent nearly my whole life thinking I really ought to get round to reading someday before I die. In under an hour I could download more classics than I could read in what's left of my lifetime for no more cost than a few pence on my electricity bill. I'd have to either renounce any pretensions to culture, or admit that the battle to finish reading all my books was finally and definitely lost.

My sole consolation is that e-books do not make a very tall pile.