The alleged e-books versus traditional printed matter debate looks set to run and run and the point here is the word versus. It doesn't have to be an either/or situation, although the idea of conflict produces plenty of column inches. Any savvy book enthusiast knows that the two can happily co-exist, from the ease of portability which an e-reader provides, to the deep satisfaction of holding what is the equivalent of a bespoke piece of publishing in your hands. Recently two of the great independent publishing houses have launched digital out-of-print classics publishing streams – Faber Finds is going strong and the Bloomsbury Reader promises to rejeuvenate out-of-circulation authors from Edith Sitwell to V.S. Pritchett. (Although I sincerely hope they overlook Edith Sitwell’s only novel, 1937’s I Live Under A Black Sun – the true definition of unreadable, or perhaps experimental is a kinder word).[caption id="attachment_22" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Illustration by Clifford Harper from The Camberwell Beauty and Other Stories"][/caption]
While Bloomsbury states that ‘digital gives you a way to bring books back to life … which, for whatever reason, are out of print’ , this is of course what Folio does with many hardcover editions. The mention of V.S Pritchett in particular caught my eye because we have just published our own edition of his stories, selected by William Trevor, unquestionably another master short-story writer. So, while my 81-year-old mother (who loves the 16-point font size on her Kindle because it means she can actually see the words) will be downloading at the rate of knots, she’ll also have a copy of the real thing to browse through, to keep, to treasure, to pass on.
This concept of the book as beautiful object is something that this year’s Booker winner Julian Barnes recognised in his acceptance speech a couple of weeks ago and has been much quoted – although he must be satisfied that while the hardback editions of The Sense of an Ending set it all off, the parallel digital sales have far exceeded them. You can, it seems, have it all.