How we read - three books discussed

By Andrew Martin - Financial Times
As the world of print recedes, what is lost and what is gained?

Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times, by Andrew Piper, University of Chicago Press RRP$22.50/RRP£14.50, 208 pages

Paper: An Elegy, by Ian Sansom, Fourth Estate RRP£14.99, 224 pages

The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting and Why It Still Matters, by Philip Hensher, Macmillan RRP£14.99/Faber RRPUS$28, 304 pages

'Hand Holding a Book' (1864) by Adolf von Menzel
A declaration of interest: this article is written by a writer. I don’t say a good writer, but a full-time professional writer, and if you ask any representative of this dying breed how they feel about the apparent dissolution of print in the face of ebooks and websites, they will almost all say the same thing: they will tell you they are against it. Paper pages remind them of paper money: of the civilised advances paid before the electronic undermining of book prices prompted most authors to develop a sideline, usually teaching the profession from which they can no longer make a living.

But the attachment of writers to the old, tangible media is not just about money. The physical book seems like a fitting reward for the labour of writing a book. It is flattering that third parties – typesetters, printers, designers – are roped in on your behalf. A physical book represents closure, whereas ebook publication means becoming part of the eternal, energy-sapping flux of the internet. You have to do all your own marketing: blogging or tweeting about how great you are in defiance of all those childhood injunctions to be modest; and there are people out there who aspire to pick your work apart electronically, “remix” it in the name of some democratic hippyish ideal. If you become involved in that sort of interactivity, then you might have to spend a long time defending your vision or just lying awake and worrying about the assaults made upon it by people who, surely, ought to be making their own stuff up.

Fortunately we writers, being writers, can write about this. Whereas I don’t believe I have read a single work by a milkman lamenting that most people now buy their milk from a shop instead of having it delivered, books fretting over the death of print form one of the genres of the moment.

Link to Financial Times for full reviews.