Letter : Too soon to write off books and switch on to the Internet

Share
Sir: John Walsh's article on "the end of the book" (27 April) is unduly pessimistic. As the technology for text presentation improved so did the potential for a wider range of written works. Wax and clay tablets limited humanity to short letters, records and accounts. The flat- bed press made all types of books available to larger numbers of people up to the 19th century, and modern printing has produced a veritable flood of recreational material. However, the issue of getting material to people who will be disposed to read it remains - serious book reading has been on the decline for years, well before any alternative technologies emerged.

For many people, starting to read a novel is a significant investment of time and represents a real opportunity cost. Book sales slip. Publishers respond by concentrating on a limited set of authors within strict categorisations to make choice easy for the would-be purchaser. However, this tight, predictable formula clearly jades the palates of many readers, and their response does not appear to have been to rush back to the bookshop and gamble another pounds 5 in the hope that the next book will prove to be significantly different.

If competing with other writers to supply books written to the strict formula demanded by agents and publishers is all that the existing system can offer, is it any wonder that the Internet is now hosting a new literary community? If the technology permits people to circulate their work in progress, to be stimulated by comment, and to get greater satisfaction from the final result, so be it. And if within the next few years I can download a clutch of novels, both old and new, to a paperback-sized device with a nice backlit screen and with the size and style of fount set to my preference, I will read more. And so will many other people.

Don't worry, Mr Walsh. The times may be a-changin' but it is probably for the better.

D Eadsforth

Winchester

Sir: John Walsh bases his article on a book by an unknown American professor of English, Sven Birkerts. Big mistake: unknown American academics are not like their European counterparts, but operate in a competitive market where only the most outrageous receive attention. It was only a matter of time before the end of literature would be formulated in order to back up a grant application. Of course, such a thesis will be self-contradictory and pointless, and even the doomsday knell of "the fate of reading in an electronic age" in the title of Birkerts's book is as much a soundbite as anything in the soundbite culture he derides.

People do not on the whole tend to swap comfort for discomfort, and until the experience of electronic reading is as comfortable as curling up with a paperback, the book as the artefact we know will be safe. And when the computer adapts in this way, the book will have won; just as it won when it moved from hand-illumination, to movable type, to the paperback.

Tom Saul

London SE26

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Developer (ASP.NET, F#, SQL, MVC, Bootstrap, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A couple stand in front of a beautiful cloudy scene  

In sickness and in health: It’s been stormy but there are blessings in the clouds

Rebecca Armstrong
Chancellor George Osborne (C) wears a high visibility jacket as he makes a visit to the Prysmian Group factory and speaks to factory manager Steve Price  

Keep the champagne on ice – there are some clear and worrying signs that the economy is slowing

David Blanchflower
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?