I took my new ebook reader on holiday recently. Now there's a sentence I never expected to write. According to all the statistics, something like 99 per cent of all known life now owns a Kindle, and only dinosaurs, idiots and perverts still buy paper books. But I'm not the only one: two-thirds of Mslexia readers, according to their new survey, are "book fetishists". I don't file my personal library according to the Dewey Decimal System, as 1 per cent of their respondents do, but I do organise books alphabetically and I like the way they smell. But as this paper's literary editor, I ought to try anything once (except morris dancing, incest and magic realism), so I downloaded some books.
I make that sound so simple. What I really did was: took my ereader out of its box... Figured out that its battery was dead... Realised I had lost its lead... Ordered a new lead from the internet... Discovered too late that the delivery needed to be signed for, so it was taken back to the sorting office... Went to a shop and bought another lead ... Charged the ereader ... Found that most of the new books I need to read for my job are not available as ebooks... Tried four online bookshops before finding one that sold the right format... Chose some books... Persuaded a young colleague to help me download them... Packed my ereader, expectantly.
I stepped onto the plane with hand luggage only, and settled down to read my novel. Then the cabin crew told me to switch off my in-flight reading: no electronic devices are allowed during take-off and landing. My holiday companion sat beside me, smugly reading his paperback. By the time we got to the pool (me hovering protectively over my costly electronic device), he had finished his George RR Martin, and I had barely started my Hilary Mantel. With my modern new gadget, I was left behind.
Three cheers, then, for Derek Addyman, a secondhand bookseller in Hay, who has called for a ban on ereaders at this week's literary festival. "Kindles have no place at this festival which is supposed to be a celebration of the written word – and books," he says. "Books are sociable and people stop and talk to each other about them. Kindles are just a phase and they won't last." You know why? They're all reading dodgy "erotica" between those anonymous plastic covers, apparently. So who are the perverts, now?
I got back from holiday with no lovely new books to show for the week, meaning that I was powerless to prevent my holiday companion slotting his new purchases on to the bookshelves then reorganising all our titles according to genre. To genre! Melvil Dewey and I could weep. Next time I go on holiday, I'm taking only big, fat, delicious papery hardbacks, and then I'm going to bring them home and arrange them by author and title. I may be mistaken for a dinosaur, an idiot and a pervert, but I'll have read the latest books, filed them properly and be able to prove that I am not secretly reading soft porn.