I’ve been reading a book on my mobile phone. Even just writing that sentence jars with me. It’s not right, is it? I’ve accepted that the brave new world of ebooks is here to stay and, I’ve even embraced it to a certain degree, certainly during my summer holidays, but books on phones?
Curiosity got the better of me after my brother-in-law explained to me that he regularly reads books on his mobile phone. I downloaded the Kindle app and then synchronised it with my Amazon account. As if by magic, my books now appeared on the phone.
I started reading The Last Bookstore in America by Amy Stewart. It bills itself as ‘a comic novel about the future of books and bookstores,’ so it is appropriate, or perhaps ironic, that this is the book I’ve chosen to read on my phone. In the novel, traditional books are dying, suddenly obsolete in the face of a new e-book innovation – the Gizmo – which is also leading to the annihilation of book stores in the United States.
Lewis Hartman inherits a book store in the town of Eureka in California which continues to thrive despite just about every other store being in terminal decline, and its inexplicable success inevitably attracts attention from politicians, businessmen, crooks and the federal authorities.
The book is, indeed, quite funny while it also does make the reader think about books and book stores (or, since I’m in Scotland, book shops). Perhaps an even bigger irony than me reading the book on a mobile phone is the fact that The Last Bookstore in America is only available as an ebook.
I feel guilty, and slightly unnerved, to admit that reading on my mobile phone was not an altogether unpleasant experience. I dipped in and out of the book. whenever circumstances allowed. I read it at the dentist’s while sitting with a sense of dread for the dentist to beckon me into her room, or when I was at the local Indian restaurant, waiting for my takeaway order to be cooked. There were a couple of nights when I read it in bed, under the covers because I’d been asked (ordered) to turn off my bedside lamp. I felt like a child again – no, not because of being chastised – and I was shining a torch on a Roald Dahl book while continuing to remain alert for any sound of approaching parents.
Still, it will come as no surprise when I tell you that, just like the Kindle, my mobile phone is no substitute for an actual physical book. It’s too small for a start, and it just feels like a phone in my hand rather than a book – yes, I know I’m stating the obvious – and when I’m reading, there’s always some inconsiderate person texting or calling me.
Is it the future? I hope not, although I did a cursory Google search and discovered that over 25million people in China only use their mobile phones to read books, which is a phenomenal figure. I shouldn’t be surprised, given that Katie Melua once told us that there are nine million bicycles in Beijing, which is a fact, apparently; maybe she can write a follow-up about mobile phone readers?
The fact that people are reading at all should, I suppose, be worthy of celebration, though I worry that, as a nation of mobile phone users, reading on the phone will become much more appealing that actually going into a book shop (or store!), picking a book up, looking through it and then buying it.
My bigger fear, however, is that, if mobile phone reading continues to increase in popularity, then it’s only a matter of time before we get ‘text-speak’ novels. I, for one, won’t be laughing out loud then.