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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Won't you sign my e-book please?


A couple of weeks ago I came home from a book launch with a nice fat hardbound copy of the novel, Amitav Ghosh's "River of Smoke", signed by the author with an inscription to my daughter. This copy joined my set of three of Ghosh's books, each with a signature and a personal note. Then there's the signed copy of Chimamanda Adichie's "Half of a Yellow Sun" alongside Alexander McCall Smith's "No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" with his name scrawled on the fly-leaf. Other authors have scrawled their unrecognizable or distinctive black-ink John Hancocks on other books, from Mark Tully to William Dalrymple to Kaveri Nambisan. Each of the inscriptions brings back a story of a meeting, of a specific context of experiencing the book. And I treasure them all. I know, ten or twenty years from now, when my bibliophile daughter takes over my bookshelves, she will feel the same fondness for those old volumes, maybe a bit yellowed and dog-eared, but with the charming smell of ink and thick paper that refuses to get old. Each time someone tells me about a recent conversion to Kindle or the Nook or books on the iPad, I think to myself, oh how convenient, to be able to travel with one slim gadget that carries a thousand books in it, and to read in comfort wherever you go without worrying about "running out" of reading material!

But I am also equally convinced that the paper and ink version of the book will not go the way of the dinosaur and steam engine just yet. Apart from the raw commerce surrounding the production of hard copy books, there is just too much cultural meaning surrounding them for people to give them up easily. There is the charm of marginalia--and better still, second-hand marginalia that makes us smile or mutter as we leaf through a pre-owned copy. I think there are at least two good reasons for predicted a long life for the printed book. One, most of us still feel the delight and excitement of tearing off the pretty wrapping from a book-sized object and exclaiming, "Oh, but just what I wanted to read!" And two, there is a special meaning attached to author-signed copies of books, no matter how obscure or distant the author. Pradeep Sebastian writes in his column in The Hindu about precious "association copies"  ,  books that have been inscribed and signed for a particular person. There is a special feeling about owning a book with the writer's own [pen and ink] mark on it. In this, the e-book  just cannot compete. After all, can you imagine someone going up to an author with an e-gadget and asking, "could you sign my ebook please?"

4 comments:

Madhuri Dubey said...

How true! And possessing, owning and collecting "virtual books" can never be the same as experiencing the real books.

aavaz said...

That was lovely Usha, thanks for sharing. I remember you always had a book in hand when in School..

aavaz said...

oopps, let me disclose, thats me Bina your class mate from St Anns..

Sumana Kasturi said...

As someone who just finished (re)reading a crumbling and yellowed favorite novel from 20 years ago, while the kindle lies dusty and uncharged in a drawer, I completely agree with you. Thank you for saying it so well! I am however, somewhat jealous of your collection of author signatures...