My shelves are empty. The half-dozen Billy Bookcases I bought from Ikea are now little more than scrap. I have burned my books. A bonfire of ideas and ideals.
My bookshelves used to burst at the seams.
Every individual shelf bowed violently from the over-stuffed mass of paperbacks squeezed onto it.
Shakespeare rubbed up with Straczinsky.
A complete set of Terry Pratchett was enviously glowered at by a patchy Enid Blyton collection.
Half-read oddities nestled with well worn volumes. A copy of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" which taught me how to read as a child occupying the same shelf as the a Camille Paglia book purchased solely to make me look intellectual. I somehow acquired two copies of Machiavelli's "The Prince". What I want to convey to you is that I have a deep and abiding love for books. That is why I must burn them.
Every time I find an ebook copy of a book I have on my shelf, the ebook version is downloaded - redundantly backed up - and placed in my Calibre library. The physical book is burned.
Please, don't get me wrong. I'm not engaging in a Fahrenheit 451 orgy of destruction. Each physical book is carefully checked and then given to a charity shop so it can be enjoyed anew by someone else. I'm not a monster! I even gift-aid my donations.
But, for a while, it felt like I was doing something terrible. Destroying or disrespecting books is a secular sin - that's what comes of having an English teacher for a parent. I'm trying to be a hip, 21st century guy and live digitally - but I have a heap of 20th century baggage (and a bunch of monkey-brained concepts) which are hard to let go of.
Having physical stuff feels good. Ultimately though, digital stuff is better. More convenient, easier to save in case of a fire, more useful, and takes up less space. I'm doing to my books what I did to my CDs - going 100% digital.
Throughout the web, you'll see people saying "Oh! But reading an ebook doesn't feel the same! You don't get same smell as old books! They're cold and soulless."
This is nonsense. Find an ebook copy of the book you loved as a child. After a minute, you'll be right inside Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory and won't care whether the words are on eink or written on papyrus.
CDs are better at reproducing music than vinyl records ever were. DVDs are better than VHS. Ebooks are better than physical books. They contain the same words, the same stories and ideas, they entertain and delight in exactly the same way.
And now, I can carry my whole library with me wherever I go.
Libraries have many ancillary functions that they've developed over the years. At their core, they are no more than a semi-convenient warehouse for books.
I asked my local library how many books they had - this was their response.
@edent Hi - at the end of last year we had 1,708,142 books in stock (Surrey Libraries) Woking Library had 74,805.
— Surrey Libraries UK (@SurreyLibraries) January 24, 2012
(I assume that's physical volumes rather than distinct titles as they have duplicate copies of popular books.)
Could I carry on my Kindle every single book that my local library holds?
Ebooks come in various file sizes. A typical novel weighs in at under 500KB. An illustrated book is typically under 3MB. A comic - or other work with a large quantity of images - could be over 100MB.
Judging from my collection, the average ebook file is around 1MB. Which is rather convenient for our calculations.
Woking Library has 74,805 books. At 1MB each - that's 73GB of files.
Buying a 75GB hard disk today is almost impossible. The smallest size readily available is 1TB. That's 1024GB. Or, enough to hold 1,048,576 typical ebook. Slightly shy of the total number of books held by all the libraries in the county.
Total cost for a 1TB external hard drive? Around £60. Less than the price of a couple of cheap bookshelves.
If you wanted to carry the books on a MicroSD card - suitable for a nook or other ereader - then a 32GB card will set you back £30. You could carry around 90,000 ebooks with you for less than £100.
Realistically, though, how many books can you read in your lifetime? Even on holiday with nothing to do but laze on a beach and read - I manage about one book per day.
Were I to live to 100 years of age, and read one book per day, every day. I would barely be able to fill a single 32GB MicroSD card.
Everything I've ever read could fit on one of these.
I have none. Thank you for reading anyway.