My partner is visually impaired to the extent that, last year, he virtually gave up trying to read the newspaper because the print was so small and difficult to see. In an effort to help, I bought him special reading lights designed for people with sight problems, but he told me to stop buying him books, because he would never be able to read them now. It upset me, because I love to read and couldn’t imagine how awful it would feel if that was taken away. I tried to encourage him to think about audio books, and got him a cd of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. He explained that even before his sight problems, he had never really been much of a bookworm, preferring to be outdoors playing football or running. So we had a house clear out and gave more books to the charity shops.
He seemed mildly interested when I started to rave about my kindle, and how you could alter the font size and lighting to make reading easier. He has always loved his Android phone, because the idea of having everything he needs in one convenient, small tablet, including his music, always appealed. So when he recently bought a Kindle Fire HD, I was rather surprised. Soon, he told me he had started to read a daily newspaper again – on his kindle. I was really pleased that an activity he had enjoyed previously was now back on the menu. Last week, he started to download some running books. And the other day he revealed that he had started to read in his lunch hour at work, and, for the first time in his life, he was enjoying reading books. Oh, and he can hardly be parted from his kindle.
When the first Harry Potter books became famous, lots of commentators asserted the series had enticed many previously reluctant or non-readers to discover books – especially boys. I think it’s time someone did some research into how many people who had previously never read a book before have been introduced to this wonderful experience through their e-readers. I reckon they would discover that more – not less – folk are now reading books. Whether they are ebooks or tree books, why does that matter? A love of reading can only be a good thing.
Postscript: I’d just finished writing this post when the TV programme Room 101 came on, in which broadcaster John Craven chose digital books as the thing he wanted to ban. Tellingly, there was a round of applause from the studio audience – I’d love to know how many of them possess an e-reader or regularly visit bookshops. I’m glad that Frank Skinner, the host, didn’t agree with him and suggested they encourage more reading. To paraphrase his conclusion; “It’s the words (not the platform) that matters.”