The Victorians future-proofed their houses to enable residents and later generations to modify the internal space according to need. By the 1960s the Victorian style was considered ugly and wasteful – the future was utilitarian, in any colour or material you wanted provided it was poured concrete.
The 70s vernacular is now considered the architectural equivalent of swearing.
Space in any urban environment is forever at a premium. And as cities become more crowded, modern needs demand that living spaces be more versatile to combat the cupboard-like proportions of the average home. Builders these days, in London at least (or so it might appear), subscribe to the principle ‘stack ‘em high, sell ‘em expensive’.
Luckily there are all these new-fangled technologies to remove the clutter from our lives – chunky vinyl gave way to nifty CDs to the slow death of the hard format. No need for physical copies of music or film. Virtual friends are the same as real ones with the added bonus that you don’t have to feed them. Same with books (not that I feed my books).
The ebook is not a thing of beauty, but it might be a joy forever. Unlike Keats.
It’s certainly convenient – no more will I have to chop down a tree, pulp it, treat it, turn it into paper, let it dry, bind it into a book and then copy out longhand whichever novel it is I don’t want to pay for. And then weep bitter tears once I realise that I don’t have enough pages and will forever wonder what actually happened to Madame Bovary.
I like to think it all worked out.
I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking “Profane Words! The ebook is a godless contraption, an abomination abhorrent to all right-thinking men.” But hear me out: you can have whole entire libraries at your fingertips; you can take it to a café, or on holiday. It’s light and you can wedge it into a special cover so strangers think it’s an iPad.
Best of all, if you find yourself wanting to read something that snobs like me call post-literate, no-one ever has to know. Except that person reading over your shoulder, of course – there’s always one. Fifty Shades of Dan Brown gets your knickers in a twist? Age gap too great for Nancy Drew (“my god he’s old enough to be her father”)? Some people, especially men, are too ashamed to read low end chick-lit in public – no longer.
Wait. How old is Nancy Drew supposed to be again?
But there’s a downside. No, not the romance of pulped and bound trees with their intoxicating paper smells and lovingly crafted covers hinting at the boundless joys within. Not the promise, or the anticipation of a pristine spine. As the French say, the best part of the affair is the walk up the stairs.
There might be no inherent romance to an ebook, but it’s the future, only now. And just like in the 1960s, functional and utilitarian are once again the future. Besides, who needs romance in their lives? That’s positively bourgeois, and hipster moustaches tell me that 19th century philosophy is the big fashion trend this season. And when fashion speaks, people listen. Power to the people, y’all.
Back to this downside. The other day I spied a young man on public transport. With his half-dreadlocked hair, his vintage-flavoured attire and hippy jewellery he was clearly a free thinker and an intellectual, spiritual but not confined by the narrow concept of organised religions, yeah? In case anyone was in any doubt, he was reading 1984; the Beatles of the books wot make you deep world. At this point you probably think me a grump and a meanie.
You’re absolutely right, but in fairness, the reason I know what this chap was reading was because he was holding it up so that the cover was at the eye level of everyone sitting down (except next to him, which no one was because he was a wee bit smelly, soap being bourgeois and all). It faced up slightly so that everyone standing up could see it clearly, too. The cover had been fashioned to look like mid-20th century Soviet propaganda. That wasn’t an accident.
I ended up moving further down the carriage (no reason), but when I looked up, there it was: the cover was facing me. Moving again I noticed the cover followed me like the eyes of Mona Lisa.
What a poseur.
I was especially pissed off because everyone was paying attention to 1984, and not my copy of WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin.
And it took me bloody ages to find just the right cover depicting the mathematical flavour of the novel while also portraying the sort of dystopian vision the USSR was to become. It was banned there between 1921 and 1988 don’tcherknow.
So the moral is this: ebooks are great and all, but useless if you want strangers to know what you’re reading and realise how tasteful and deep you are.