This piece was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.128 on 3rd Ocstober 2011
It is 85 years since H.V. Morton made his journeys around England which became immortalised as “In Search of England”. One of the most evocative passages for me is the point where he visits St Anthony in Roseland in Cornwall. While staying with some hospitable locals Morton is invited to trudge up a muddy lane in order to experience the contemporary pinnacle of what we would refer to today as “information technology”: a valve radio. He meditates on the marvels of this modern miracle and shares the amazement of the locals as he listens to the tinkle of coffee cups and the rhythmic thrumming of a dance band in the Savoy Hotel, hundreds of miles away in London. Morton was clearly at ease with modern technology.
So, it was probably not in the spirit of the great man when I felt a small shudder travel up my spine as I read on the Amazon web-site recently that this first of his series of travelogues is now available in a “Kindle” edition. The Kindle is an electronic reader, a device claiming to be everything a book is and more. The adverts show us pictures of actors laughing while whipping Kindles out of over-sized bags (“see how small and convenient it is”) and desperately trying to appear as if they are enjoying themselves while their Kindle is exposed to sand on the beach or being enthusiastically licked by the pet dog (“see how rugged and portable it is”). With thousands of different volumes stored on a single device you need never worry about having to find a real book on a real shelf ever again – everything is downloadable on a whim.
Well, I’m afraid I am unable to share the enthusiasm of its promoters, hard as this will be for Amazon to bear, I’m sure. It’s just that I love actual books too much; even the most battered volume in my collection means more to me than the blank, empty eye of an electronic reader ever could. The feel, look, sound and even smell of pages as they are turned beneath one’s fingers is a million miles away from the cold caress of a plastic screen while little computer sounds attempt to mimic the noise of real pages. My books are friends to me, good and convivial companions through life’s journey. I know each one of them intimately, they represent a living connection with things past and present – people and places I have known and visited down the years (I just have to look at my copy of “In Scotland Again” to be taken back in my mind’s eye to a cottage on the Mull of Kintyre on the shores of Loch Caolisport).
To me reading a book isn’t just about reading words, it is a personal and sensual experience. Each book, with its individual creases and imperfections, its fonts and layout has a patina, a character of its own that no electronic device could ever capture, no matter how ‘convenient’ it claims to be (although who ever complained that a book’s batteries have run down!). Some may see me being a “stick in the mud” (as my mother would say) by not moving with the times and keeping up with the latest technology, but that’s not entirely true. I love the computer age, I am fascinated with word processors, the internet, email and MP3 players. But books are different, they are my technological line in the sand, “thus far and no further!” I say, and the electronic reader is, for me, a step too far!
Anyone wishing to know more about the Kindle edition of In Search of England should follow this link.
With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
p.s. Peter Devenish of the HV Morton Society comments: “Morton certainly was interested in new technology, even in his later years. In his letters he described how delighted he was when TV came to South Africa; and he was as excited as a 15-year-old with the first landing on the Moon. Whether the Kindle would have been the “technological line in the sand” for HVM I don’t know but, with his great love for his library and books generally, I suspect he would have shared Niall’s view.”