An interesting piece here in today's Guardian by John Lanchester, about whether electronic books/materials are going to go the way of the illegal downloading that is angering the music and film industries. He writes quite a bit about copyright laws and why he couldn't use a certain poem in the American edition of his latest book, Family Romance. I'm in two minds about electronic books and information being freely available on the internet. As a part-time student, I've found it invaluable at times. As a full-time bookrep, I'd like to keep my job until retirement. I agree with Lanchester that fiction probably does not have to worry for a while - what I would ultimately love to see is more aesthetic attention paid to books as art objects - the paper, the font sizes, the copyediting, the covers, the endpapers. See for example one of my favourite small publishers - Persephone Books. The beauty of their books will never be duplicated by the internet.
Of course we will always need beautiful places to read books in too. Lanchester describes the miles of stacks underground in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. I once spent three weeks happily reading Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf in the Bodleian. I still tingle when I think of it - it was truly a religious experience. One afternoon I went to retrieve some books I had requested and the librarian apologized for the absence of one of them. "I'm so sorry," she said. "But we had to send the van for that one and it won't be back until later." That tingle again. It felt like such a privilege -almost a guilty one - that someone was going to all this trouble so I could read a physical book. And not even a rare one at that - a pamphlet on Woolf, written by Margaret Drabble, if I recall correctly.