And so, one morning in May – little more than nine months after the electrik inklings dreamed their dream in the Jazz Café – a second piece of magic happened…
BAM! Their workshop doors burst open and a bright, shiny new story, in a stunning lime green jacket, marched out and made its way noisily into the world. ZAP. KAPOW. FWOOSH! How the inklings buzzed and cheered as straight away, one – two – three – four bookshops not far from the Jazz Café welcomed the story in and settled it comfortably on their shelves.
Silence descended. Keeping themselves invisible and trying not to fidget, the inklings waited. The story was ready. It was there, within arm’s reach of the first child. And here he was! An eight-year-old boy arrived and took the book in his hands. Buzzz – ZZING! The magic unfolded. He read it all, cover to cover. And when at last he looked up… well, you can probably guess the rest. This isn’t fiction. This is a fact. He hungrily asked for more…
Call me a Luddite, a dinosaur, a crazy misfit. But it is a matter of great delight to me that the first Electrik Inc book is physical in every respect. An action-packed romp of a story (written by Kim to keep the boys reading), it’s available not only as an ebook but in printed form – a fabulous paperback with 24 illustrations which local bookshops in Bath have seen fit to put on their shelves. Physical books in physical shops. ROAR!
Reading habits are changing fundamentally. Yes, this old-fashioned bookworm is happy to admit she likes her new ereader very much. I enjoy its portability and I understand why children and young adults are engaged by the technology, which grows ever more interactive. I’m also convinced that ebooks are good for print books and will encourage the publishing industry away from its blockbuster mentality towards smaller more diverse presses – commerce and culture more harmoniously balanced.
However. For all the benefits, nothing on screen – for me anyway – can replace the very sensual pleasure of curling up with a beautifully crafted, beautifully produced paper book. As a child, when I first began reading alone, it was better than chocolate – the experience inspired me to write. The weight, the size, the thickness, the glossy cover, the binding, the texture of the paper under my fingers, the sense of knowing where you are in a story judged by the accumulation of pages, the smell, the rustle, the touch… a physical book engages the senses and lifts the imagination.
While the adult book world goes rapidly digital (one third of Brits now ereading according to the latest study) the children’s book market, especially for younger readers, remains resistant. One intriguing reason has to do with parental psychology. According to a New York Times article, even mums and dads who are avid ereaders – ‘diehard downloaders’ – want their children to be surrounded by traditional print books. Why? Aside from concerns about digital distractions and too much on-screen time, parents see print books as something tactile that can be shared and want their children to have the same rite of passage into the reading world as they had. For the next generation of readers, or a good many of them, books made from trees will remain treasures.
All of which has to be good news for bricks and mortar stores like those in Bath who are championing local talent from a brand new Professional Independent Publishing group. Thank you from Electrik Inc to Topping and Co, Oldfield Park Bookshop, Mr B’s Emporium and Waterstones.