Category Archives: Novels

I don’t love books! (I love stories.)

The Opposite of Life: iPad2, print and KindleThe big question on every literate set of lips lately seems to be “Do you prefer old fashioned paper books or e-books?”. I’m not convinced it’s a valid question. I read stories, in whatever guise they come in, which means I read both digital and print books, and my preference is for whichever one is on hand at the time.

I certainly understand the affection readers have with the printed word. I have myself thrilled to the view of actual manuscripts, kept tantalisingly under glass, of the great books and diaries of yore. I’ve seen one of the first editions of Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in a castle in Poland, alongside one of the oldest known atlases in the world. At the British Library, my spine shivered in empathy at the last words in Scott’s diary: “For God’s sake look after our people.”  The written word, on the page, can be spellbinding.

But not all printed words are world changing. Not all books are lovely to hold and look at. Sometimes, no matter how thick the paper or lavish the cover, the story within those pages is bland, or vile, or simply not my cup of tea. The argument that a story is only worth reading if it’s in a book just doesn’t hold for me. As a writer, I find it vaguely offensive that it’s the format, not the story held inside it, that counts.

Perhaps my view comes from the fact that I’m a traveller too. I’ve been reading e-books, on and off, for ten or more years. My husband and I like to travel light (partly because he’s a travel writer and we’re often moving every few days and heavy suitcases get in the way). With only a small backpack into which to fit our temporary lives, we were early adopters of Palm Pilots and would load travel guides and classic literature onto the devices before the trip. (I still miss the neat auto-scrolling capacity my Palm had, so I could eat a meal and read without having even to flick the page with a finger!)

The format was a necessity for the way we travel, but the convenience was marvellous. I didn’t have to worry about favourite books getting damaged as they collided with everything else in my handbag.  If my train was delayed, or I had to spend an irritating amount of time in a waiting room, I always had several books on hand. As screens have developed, it’s become easier and easier to read from them. I used my smartphone to hold my books for ages, and now my Kindle has a delightful matte screen and I can change the font size for those tired-eye days.

Have I found having an e-reader is changing my reading habits? Yes. I’m reading a lot more: at lunchtimes at work; on the tram; waiting for the tram; at home; at cafes. I am reading several books at once, which I can choose from depending on my mood, because I have all of them with me at once. I’m more likely to spontaneously buy a book on  reading the review or getting a recommendation, rather than trying to remember the title next time I’m near a bookshop that’s open. Having a digital to-read pile is less intimidating than my still rather large paper book stash, and easier to add to. (This great news for publishers who benefit from my impulse buying; less so for my bank balance.)

Of course there are going to be less pleasant consquences of the e-book revolution. Bookselling giants like Borders and Angus and Robertson are already disappearing. Will the independent and boutique bookshops follow? I’m not convinced they all will, but I don’t know what the future holds or how readers will adapt to the new market. I’m concerned that access to books may be restricted to people on lower incomes because e-devices may not be affordable and the cheap books, championed by the likes of Penguin, may not longer be available.

It may be some years before the dust settles on the e-versus-tree upheaval and we see how it all pans out. Like all such upheavals, some changes will be for the better, some for the worse. I suspect that books on paper will never leave us, and that when readers discover an digital book that hits them in the heart, they’ll go an buy a lovely paper edition to display on the shelf, to hold and re-read and adore. And people who find a beautiful print book may then buy a digital edition to preserve that book in all its shiny glory while reading the e-book to digital death. Some people will continue to love and seek out dog-eared copies of pre-adored stories with notes in the margins, in the manner of Helen Hanff, while others will treat bound editions like precious art, not to be damaged in any way.

But people will keep on reading. They will keep finding the stories that tell them about themselves, or teach them what it’s like to be someone else, however they are told. We’re human: telling and seeking out stories is one of the nobler things we do.

For myself, I read stories in all kinds of formats. I read paper books and e-books. I read comics. I read texts on my computer and on printed-out sheafs of A4 paper. Whatever the format they come in, I read stories and it is the words, not the medium, that transport me.

*Note: The Opposite Of Life (Lissa and Gary)is now available as an e-book, but since I’m even-handed, you can get it in print form from Boomerang Books.

GaryView: A Vampire Christmas

Gary and Lissa<At a simple, double-brick home in Glen Waverley, the doorbell rings. A pale, chubby man answers the door to greet a young woman with long dark frizzy hair. She is carrying an obviously full beach bag and is wearing a pair of foam antlers.>

Lissa: Merry Christmas, Gary! <gives him a bear hug. An antler pokes him in the ear>

Gary: <turns his head awkwardly to extricate the antler while gingerly returning the hug> Merry Christmas, Lissa!

<She follows him into the house and through to the kitchen, where a single coffee mug is on the table, next to a small platter of fruit mince pies.>

Gary: Cuppa?

Lissa: Yes, please! And fruit mince pies!

Gary: Yeah. They made them at the bakery down the street. <wistfully> They smelled good.

Lissa: They look good too, but oh god, I am still so full from Christmas lunch yesterday with Kate!

Gary:… Oh.

Lissa: …But not so full that there isn’t room for another fruit mince pie. My Nanna used to make those every Christmas. <she swipes her finger across the shortbread crust of one and licks the sugar from her finger.> Mmmmmm.

<Gary makes a cup of tea for Lissa.>

Lissa: Here, I’ve got something for you. <shoves a Santa hat on his head.>

Gary: <eyeing the drooping tip of it, which bears a tinkling bell, dubiously> Ah. Thanks.

Lissa: Trust me. You look very festive.

Gary: So do you. <Tweaks the end of a foam antler.>

Lissa: I don’t usually do the silly headgear, but Beatrice wanted us to look suitably Christmassy for the Christmas Eve kids’ storytime at the library, so, you know. Antlers and Santa hats.

Gary: Oh. Well. They’re. Um.

Lissa: Ridiculous, I know. <starts to pull the antlers off>

Gary: Yeah, but, you know, fun. You look…. happy in them. Leave them on. <waggles his head slightly to make the bell tinkle> If I tried I could probably make this play Jingle Bells.

Lissa: <laughs> You probably could.

Gary: I got you something too. <opens a cupboard and pulls out something wrapped in simple brown paper> Um. I forgot to buy Christmas paper. Sorry. I’m not used to the Christmas thing any more. When I remembered and went to the shop, there were… too many people. It was so noisy and I felt… I don’t know. Out of place. Then this little kid ran into me and I sort of tried getting into the Christmas spirit and smiled at him, and he screamed and took off. Because of… you know… <gestures vaguely at his fangs> Anyway, I came home. I found this paper in a box in the spare room.

Lissa: Someone should show that kid The Nightmare Before Christmas. Don’t worry. Thank you for thinking of me. This looks lovely, and very neat!

Gary: Yeah. I like getting all the lines straight.

LIssa: I got something for you too.

Gary: I know. My hat. <waggles his head to make it jingle> Thanks.

Lissa: No, silly. That’s just so we had matching ridiculous headgear. Here. <Pulls a brightly wrapped parcel from the bag.>

Gary: Oh.

Lissa: Go on. Open it.

Gary: You first.

<Lissa unwraps the plain brown parcel, revealing a thick book called The Elements. She flips it open and leafs through the pages.>

Lissa: Wow. This is gorgeous. Those photos are incredible…

Gary: Read the opening, and the entries.

Lissa: <reads and begins to laugh out loud.> Listen to this! “The Periodic Table is the universal catalog of everything you can drop on your foot.” <continues to flick through the pages> This is so cool. It’s funny science!

Gary: But still proper science. But like stories too.

Lissa: It is! Wow. Gary, this is perfect!

Gary: You said once that you liked the idea of the periodical table being all organised but you didn’t really understand it. I saw this and I thought it might help.

Lissa: It’s beautiful! <gives Gary a massive hug> Thank you! Here – open yours!

Gary: <looks at the parcel, pokes at the ribbon, blinks a lot>

Lissa: Gary?

Gary: Yeah?

Lissa: You okay?

Gary: Yeah. <opens the parcel, revealing a box depicting a plant and a black t-shirt>.

Lissa: I hope the shirt fits. It’s from this website called Think Geek. It’s for the geek types who like to stay inside and do science.

Gary: I like to stay inside and read about science. <shakes out the t-shirt. It reads “Keep out of direct sunlight”.>

Lissa: … Does it fit?

Gary: <holds it up. > Looks like it will. <puts it aside. Checks out the box> A dinosaur plant.

Lissa: I thought it could go with the cactus I got you. They live a really long time, even if you forget to water them, according to the website anyway.

Gary: That’s really cool. <looks> It comes with Genuine Volcanic Lava Rock.

Lissa: Do you like it?

Gary: I liked it when I thought I just had a Christmas hat. This is ace. Just a minute.

< Gary jumps up from the table with the t-shirt and disappears. Lissa sips her tea and leafs through the Elements book. Sometimes she laughs. A moment later, Gary returns.>

Gary: What do you think? <He is wearing the black t-shirt.>

Lissa: That’s a good fit.

Gary: <grins> It is.

Lissa: Here. There’s one more thing. <She takes a few plastic containers out of the huge bag.> I know you can’t eat it, but Kate made the most awesome Christmas pudding with brandy custard, the way Nanna used to, and I thought you might like the scent of it.

Gary: … Yeah. Yes I would.

Lissa: Merry Christmas, Gary!

Gary: Merry Christmas, Lissa. Thanks. For…you know.

Lissa: I know. You too.

<Gary’s Christmas hat jingles as Lissa gives him a big Christmas hug. This time he doesn’t mind that he has a foam antler stuck in his ear.>

*For newcomers, the GaryView is a review of books/films/TV/entertainment carried out as a conversation between Lissa Wilson (librarian) and Gary Hooper (vampire) , characters from my book ‘The Opposite of Life’.

Always delighted to see a good review!

The Literate Kitty has given The Opposite of Life a wonderful review: Werewolves in London? Try bloodsuckers Down Under.  It starts with a discussion of the four Noble Truths of Bhuddism, works through a fantastic precis of Lissa’s background and ends with “Life may be hard and cold… but it still has the ability to surprise and delight, as Lissa finally realizes. It’s up to her (and each of us) to make that be enough.” It’s a really neat review. 🙂