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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Wednesday April 14 2010

I like books.  For years I have haunted remainder shops and charity shops.  Now that my nearest proper bookshop has just shut (the big one in Victoria Street) I have also taken to buying books from Amazon.  For years I resisted this, along with all other internet buying, on account of my suspicion that Amazon, or whoever, would know all it needed to know to steal all the money in my account.  Why would they stop at two pounds seventy nine, merely because they have promised to?  Yet clearly, they do, or I would have heard about such dramas.  If Amazon had had a plan to steal everyone’s money and run away to Brazil, they would surely have done this by now, and are now making far more money by resisting this temptation.

Did anyone predict beforehand that one of the great business successes of the early years of the internet would be, at a time when the world has been awash with predictions of the book’s inevitable demise and replacement by something more ethereal, bookselling?  Amazon is now busily destroying book shops.  Now that “my” bookshop has closed, I have wasted no time seeking another, because the obvious alternative is Amazon.  Which means that you can now, if you are lucky, keep a bookshop going, but you can’t any longer start one.  Nobody needs a new bookshop, because the entire world already has one, just as soon as the old one shuts.  So, bookshops are presumably doomed, by the Amazonian ratchet effect.  But books will be hanging around for quite some time yet, it would seem, again, because of Amazon.

One of the reasons I prefer the fact of books to the idea of electronic books is that when I am reading a book, I like to know where I am.  What stage in this story or argument have I reached?  How near am I to the end of the story or to the conclusion of the argument?  When I am reading a book, I always know the answers to such questions, but my fear about electronic books is that all I will be able to do is read the current page, without knowing whereabouts in the book as a whole I am.  That may be quite wrong.  Maybe on Kindles, there is some kind of toolbar which tells you how far you are into the book and how far there still is to go, just as when you are reading a regular book and you can compare how much you’ve read with how much remains.  You can do the electronic equivalent of flicking through.  Maybe, on every page it says: this is page so much of a total of so much.

Not my point here.  Which is: that I have just been experiencing what I have just been imagining the Kindle (or whatever) experience to be like, but with a regular book, or nearly a regular book.

I have recently become a Rebus fan.  After a false start reading Rebus books at random and not being grabbed, I started reading them in chronological order of their writing and of the events they describe.  Much better.  Now I know approximately all there is to know about Rebus at any particular point, it all makes far more sense and for a far better yarn.  When, for instance, a passing mention is made of a Rebus past in the Parachute Regiment, I know what is being referred to, insofar as any mere Rebus reader can.

However, snag.  For some reason, I was unable to obtain a cheap, charity shop or remainder shop, separate and small paperback copy of Strip Jack, and had to be content to read it as part one of a remaindered trilogy of novels, grouped together under the heading “The St Leonard’s Years”.  Very inconvenient.  In particular, despite being a paperback, far too big and heavy to lug around London in any comfort.  Even rather heavy and cumbersome to read in bed, which I like to do on my back, holding the book up in front of my face.

But also, another oddity.  Throughout my reading of Strip Jack I had no clear idea of when Strip Jack would end, and novel number two (The Black Book) would cut in.  When the final scene, of great drama and violence, did finally erupt, I only realised about two thirds of the way through the scene that this was indeed the final scene, and was only absolutely sure when I turned over a page and confronted a shortened page of text to the left, and on the right a page empty of all words other than the words “The Black Book”.  Oh, this is it.  Right.  The End.  Hm.

Odd.  I prefer the regular system, where you know where you are.

A further point about those Kindles, etc..  My attitude to them is really much the same as my attitude was to Amazon itself, for a long time.  I’ll let others do it first, and clear out the bugs.  Then when it is so ubiquitous that it obviously does work well, and when it is finally, obviously, working the way it actually will go on working, and very cheaply, far cheaper than regular books, then maybe I’ll give it a go too.