(Image by Salvatore Vuono)
You don't have to turn it off, turn it on, keep it charged or plug it in.
It doesn't matter if you drop it.
It can be read in most lights.
It never tells you that you have unread tweets or emails.
It never crashes.
It never makes alarming noises.
Most are very portable.
No-one's likely to mug you for it.
I'm talking about the book, of course, and at the same time listing some of the many reasons why most of my reading for pleasure is still done offline and away from a screen of any kind.
Don't get me wrong, I can see some of the benefits of an e-reader: instant access to a dictionary (and foreign language dictionaries?) while reading; fewer and lighter boxes when moving house; keeping within your holiday luggage allowance; not procrastinating away an afternoon by rearranging your bookcases. And of reading on a mobile phone: it's already in your pocket; you can read it in the dark. But as yet, for me, it's still to a book I turn when I want to relax.
And that's the key phrase: 'when I want to relax'. Because reading isn't relaxing when you read on the same screen you use for work, emailing and some of your social life: to really concentrate and lose yourself, you want to be somehow cut off from everything else, to be somehow somewhere else. Or I do. Even an e-reader would feel a little too inorganic and distancing to me; too much separation between me and the words.
And yet, I know there must be some way of fruitfully combining technology and what's usually found between the covers of a book - some hybrid that uses the best of both, to some artistic and/or entertaining end. And as a writer, facing an increasingly difficult publishing market (should I eventually get around to it), I'm eager to see them.
One such experiment which has caught my eye is Locus Novus, which combines short stories with visuals, soundtracks and sound effects, as well as controlling the speed at which you read, so as to (often very successfully) alter and enhance your experience and expectations of what you're reading. (But it doesn't seem to have really caught on.)
Then there's the enhanced version of Nick Cave's novel The Death of Bunny Munro, read and soundtracked by the author himself, with 3-D sound and effects, all synchronised to the text, to make a sort of audio movie - potentially a new and distinct experience from either traditional books or audiobooks, and very much suited to that particular novel (especially the more hallucinogenic passages).
Happily, it's just these kinds of experiment, these kinds of meeting between technology and books, that a new website called The Literary Platform is now seeking to highlight:
The Literary Platform is dedicated to showcasing projects experimenting with literature and technology. It brings together comment from industry figures and key thinkers, and encourages debate.
The showcase will demonstrate how traditional publishers and developers are experimenting with multimedia formats, how established authors are going it alone, how first-time novelists are bypassing publishers and how niche literary magazines are finding wider audiences.
If you're interested in the future of books and the future of writing - as a reader seeking new experiences, a publisher trying not to go bust, or a writer seeking inspiration and new outlets - The Literary Platform sounds exactly the place to be.
(And as yet no mention whatsoever of a replacement bus service; which can only be a good thing.)