e-books v printed books

It is almost three years since I read my first e-book “As I Died Laughing” by David Lloyd, I had a new phone and I’d downloaded the Kindle app. This e-book was free, I got it because a Facebook friend had written it and it wasn’t possible to get a physical printed copy here in Tbilisi. The next few e-books I got were all free.  In November of last year, I splashed out on my first e-book, buying Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”, again I got this as an e-book because I was unable to find the printed copy and I wanted to study this novel with one of my English students (I teach English as a Foreign Language). My Kindle shelf on Goodreads now has 17 titles.

Brave New World
Brave New World cover

I still prefer printed books to e-books but both media have their advantages and disadvantages.

Price : E- books are usually cheaper and if you order online, you don’t need to add the cost of postage. Many e-books are free, including some of the classics. I don’t like paying a lot for an e-book because you don’t get a physical object you can feel and put on the shelf.

Accessibility: E-books need a reader or smartphone app, the device needs to be charged. Printed books just need light and the ability to read to access their contents, you never need worry about having to charge them! Most e-readers have a backlight so they can be read in the dark.

Highlighting: The second e-book I bought was “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari ,this is  a book I couldn’t find here in Tbilisi. It is also a great reference and I have highlighted many passages.

when politics
Highlighted passage from 21 Lessons

I have a choice of highlighting in 4 colours, if I got organised, I’d use the different colours for different kinds of content…quotes, humour, mistakes etc… A highlighter can be used with a printed book but it requires finding a marker and the effect is permanent. If I own the book, I might underline passages in pencil and turn down the corners of a page to find the marked passages but I’m often reading on the metro or bus and don’t have a pencil to hand.

Portability: I can carry hundreds of e-books without additional weight. The Kindle app is on my phone so it is almost always to hand. I find it useful to have reference books like Harari with me, to refer to whenever and wherever I want. It would be impossible to carry around so many printed books. Some of the printed books I am currently reading like “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” by Susanna Clarke weighs in at 1006 pages or “Our Mutual Friend” by Charles Dickens is 801 pages, these are just too cumbersome to carry around.

ebooks v printed books
books are much more portable on the smartphone…

21 lessons

Selection: In a bookstore, we can see the entire selection as we enter. We can browse easily, we can flip through the pages of a book which interests us. With E-books, we can scroll through various books, we can also download a sample of the book but we don’t get the same impression of the scope of the book. The last e-book, I bought was disappointing. I was looking for some books on diecast car collecting, my hobby and subject of its own blog; I found Diecast Car Collecting 101, the sample looked interesting so I sent away my $8, the entire e-book was disappointing, it was very American-centric, featuring brands I rarely come across (Johnny Lightning and Greenlight) and omitting many of the European brands I like to collect (Majorette, Siku, Bburago etc). The illustrations were also disappointing, had I been able to flick through a physical copy, I would have understood these limitations and left it on the shelf.

diecast collecting 101

Aesthetics: a printed book has more appeal than an e-book. Printed books make attractive presents. Printed books appeal to our sense of touch and also our sense of smell, the whiff of a book triggers childhood memories. The fonts in printed books differ from one book to another, but with e-books, whether I’m reading a novel or memoir or how-to book, the sameness of the font scrubs away one of the unique and defining features of print books. E-books promote sameness with their incredibly limited font selection. This is hugely ironic given the ease with which so many other computer applications use different fonts.

Setting an example: If we want our kids or grandkids to read, reading a printed book in their presence provides a positive example. If we are reading an e-book, they may think we are just checking our newsfeed, playing candy crush or doing one of the other umpteen things we do on our smartphones. Reading a printed book, it is obvious what we are doing.

Distractions: Reading on a smartphone, you are open to distractions, people may phone or send a message, the temptation to check Facebook or the weather may be too great, reading a printed book takes you down to a deeper level of concentration. Some books can be so good you might be oblivious to the world around you, there have been a few times I have missed my metro stop as I was engrossed in a good book, this hasn’t happened whilst reading an e-book.

Environment: e-books are more environmentally friendly, they save trees. There are no transport issues moving an e-book from the provider to the customer. There is an environmental cost in creating the device but if it is a phone, the addition of a kindle app will have a negligible impact on the environment.

Sharing: in this age of social media, e-books can’t be shared. They are held on the user’s device. If I finish a printed book, I can pass it on to a friend who might like it.

In Summary

There are advantages and disadvantages of both media. Whilst I appreciate some of the convenience of Digital books, they just don’t deliver the same sort of visual and tactile satisfaction I get from reading physical books. If I can have the physical printed book, I would choose it over having the e-book. E-books seem more of a fad, already sales have stalled, whilst printed books continue to sell as they have for centuries…

What are your thoughts, which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments.

Here are some other views: ebooks v books and The Little Book Owl’s views… EBOOK vs PHYSICAL BOOK (The Little Owl Youtube clip)


Book Review: “Open Doors” by Ian Rankin

A bored tech millionaire who loves art, gets together with two other art connoisseurs to pull off a daring heist.

Doors Open
Doors Open

Like the Rebus novels this is set in Edinburgh but this time without Rebus. There is a Detective Inspector Ransome, who shows himself very tenacious, but the main character is Mike Mackenzie, who along with two fellow art lovers comes up with what he thinks is a perfect plan to steal some precious artworks, without anyone realising a crime has been committed. The plot gets complicated when a local gangland boss is brought into the proceedings.

The title “Doors Open” relates to an open day in the city when many buildings are open to the public like the City Hall, the Sewage Works and a warehouse for the National Gallery… there is also the expression “when one door closes, another one opens”…

It is a quick read, the heist is carried out in the middle of the book, the last part dealing with a succession of double crosses, as professional criminals and crime novices clash.

My rating: four out of five


Terrorism is theatre

Don’t Panic

Terrorists actually kill relatively few people but they scare billions.


Growing up in the UK in the seventies, terrorism was synonymous with the IRA, it only affected me with a few bomb scares, when we had to evacuate various buildings. I never witnessed an actual terrorist attack. I was living in London in February 1991, when the IRA exploded a bomb at Victoria Station, Derek, who was later to be my best man was working at the station that day distributing the magazine Ms London, that was the closest I got to a terrorist act affecting my life.

With the Good Friday Agreement (1998) the Irish terror threat abated and the jihadist threat rose in its stead.

Since 11 September 2001, every year terrorists have killed around 50 people in the EU, ten people in the USA and seven people in China. In contrast, each year traffic accidents kill about 80 000 Europeans, 40 000 Americans and 270 000 Chinese.

In 2002 at the height of the Palestinian terror campaign against Israel, when Israel was attacked on a daily basis, the yearly toll reached 451 dead Israelis, in the same year 542 Israelis were killed in car accidents.

Terrorism is a military strategy that hopes to change a political situation by spreading fear rather than by causing material damage. Terrorism is the choice of weak parties, who do not have the means to inflict much material damage on their enemies. Terrorism is like aikido, where you use the strength of the attacker against them.

21 lessons

Yuval Noah Harari, gives an interesting analogy of how terrorism works in his book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”

terrorists resemble a fly that tries to destroy a china shop. The fly is so weak that it cannot move even a single teacup. So how does the fly destroy a china shop? It finds a bull, gets inside its ear, and starts buzzing. The bull goes wild with fear and anger, and destroys the china shop.

This is what happened after 9/11, the jihadists incited the American bull and its allies to destroy the Middle East China Shop. Now jihadists flourish in the ruins of Iraq and Libya.

Terrorists are too weak to wage conventional war, they choose to produce a theatrical spectacle that will provoke the enemy into over reacting. In most cases, this overreaction to terrorism poses a far greater threat to our security than the terrorists themselves.

Terrorists aren’t army generals, they think like theatre producers. 9/11 is mostly remembered for al-Qaeda demolishing the Twin Towers, not so much for the successful attack on the Pentagon. As a military target the Pentagon, part of the enemy’s central headquarters was far more significant.

Terrorists undertake an impossible mission to change the political balance of power through violence, despite having no army. If we want to combat terrorism we must realise that nothing terrorists do can defeat us.

In past centuries political violence was common, terrorism didn’t bother our medieval ancestors because they had bigger problems to deal with. In the West today political violence has been virtually eliminated, so any act of political violence is amplified. Killing a few people in Belgium draws far more attention than killing hundreds in Nigeria or Iraq. The very success of moderns states in preventing political violence is what makes them particularly vulnerable to terrorism.

The most efficient answer to terrorism might be good intelligence and clandestine action against the financial networks that feed terrorism, but this won’t make the news. the media hysteria after 9/11 prompted the state to act, unleashing a mighty storm just as the terrorists wanted.

It is our inner terror that prompts the media to obsess about terrorism and governments to overreact. If we allow our imagination to be captured by terrorists, the terrorists will have won. The jihadists and far right groups have a similar objective in the west to alienate muslims, Islamophobia and jihad recruiting go hand-in-hand.

The preceding thoughts are for terrorism as we have known it in recent years. However, if terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction, the nature of global politics will change dramatically. While present day terrorism is mostly theatre, future nuclear terrorism, cyberterrorism or bioterrorism would pose a much more serious threat and would demand drastic action from governments.


Book Review: “Terrorist” by John Updike

John Updike is a great writer, he won the Pulitzer prize for fiction more than once. This book has varied ratings on Goodreads, Updike’s usual theme is Protestants in smalltown America. Here, he has strayed far from his familiar stomping ground to that of a fervent  terrorist in New Jersey. Ahmad is the American born son of an absent Egyptian father and Irish-American mother, his father left when Ahmad was but three and the father-figure role was taken on by an extreme Yemeni Imam; Shaikh Rashid. Updike is brave straying out of his home territory but his understanding of teenage Muslims and also African-Americans seems rather stereotypical.

The Terrorist

I think many on Goodreads didn’t like it because they were expecting more action with a title like “Terrorist”,  John Updike is not a Frederick Forsyth or an Andy McNab. Updike is more about describing beautifully the mundane and extraordinary lives of everyday people. He captures well the alienation of a non-Christian witnessing a church service for the first time when Joryleen invites Ahmad to her lively black church to see her sing in the choir.

All stand to sing. Ahmad is brought to his feet as if by chains tying him to the others.

High school can be a daunting place for one who doesn’t fit in.

high school and the world beyond it are full of nuzzling – blind animals in a herd bumping against one another, looking for a scent that will comfort them.

The one character who rings true is Jack Levy, the High School Guidance counsellor, trapped in a sad marriage to Beth “a whale of a woman“. Ahmad has good grades and Levy sees him too late to offer any effective career guidance, he tries to guide Ahmad to community college. Jack even turns up at the apartment Ahmad shares with his somewhat negligent mother, Teresa Mulloy, going beyond the call of duty. Ahmad, influenced by Shaikh Rashid, is clear he wants to become a truck driver. Jack finds Teresa slightly flirtatious and the two have a brief affair, Jack a lapsed Jew is attracted to the Irish spark in her. Ahmad takes a job at a furniture company run by a Lebanese family, Charlie Cheab, son of the propietor, uses the furniture business as a front for covert jihad business. Charlie sees in Ahmad’s zeal a potential recruit as a jihadist and starts grooming him. Charlie and Ahmad travel around New Jersey, delivering and picking up furniture, we see the changes in New Jersey through their eyes, no longer is it the butt of jokes but an up and coming region like a southern Connecticut.

It is clear Updike has done some research on the Qu’ran and jihadist thinking, it shows us how the quest for God can be perverted into a desire to suppress, diminish, and eventually destroy those with different beliefs. It shows how Holy Books can be quoted selectively to justify heinous acts. There is much to praise here but the non-white characters are not well drawn.

My rating : three out of five


Book Review: “The Old Curiosity Shop” by Charles Dickens

”’I say’ – quoth Miss Brass, abruptly breaking silence, ‘you haven’t seen a silver pencil-case this morning, have you?’

‘I didn’t meet many in the street,’ rejoined Mr Swiveller. ‘I saw one – a stout pencil-case of respectable appearance – but as he was in company with an elderly penknife, and a young toothpick with whom he was in earnest conversation, I felt a delicacy in speaking to him.’”

Laughter lay very near the surface of Dickens; it was always on the verge of breaking out, generously, ruthlessly, uncontrollably, as if someone had struck a match near a volatile substance. Dickens was an entertainer, he knew that to address serious social issues, he would need the sympathy of his readers. He would need also to have a wide circulation, Dickens was a keen businessman. He also, through his writings, wanted to show goodness to be attractive and to broaden our horizons to identify with people whose outward lives though unlike ours, had inner lives which are not unsimilar.

I’m slowly working my way through Dickens oeuvre, it started way back in school with A Tale of Two Cities, unfortunately studying books in school can put you off an author for life. It took a long time to get back into Dickens. But I am glad I did.

I am not reading the novels in chronological order, The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) is the fourth novel he wrote and the fifth that I have read.

the Old Curiosity Shop
The Old Curiosity Shop

I was intrigued by the title “The Old Curiosity Shop” as I love searching in junk shops, secondhand shops, fleamarkets and antique shops for interesting curios. The book, however,  has little to do with the shop, but is more focused on two of its inhabitants Little Nell and her grandfather, who are forced out of the premises by the villainous dwarf Mr Quilp.

Little Nell’s grandfather has a gambling addiction, explained so well by Dickens, one wonders if he too were tempted by the cards and dice. The book includes many illustrated etchings by Hablot K Browne (Phiz) and George Cattermole.

the Old Curiosity Shop illustration 2
Mr Swiveller’s Libation

As an adult, I get a nostalgic buzz from an illustrated novel, as many of my childhood favourites like “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” were amply illustrated.

the Old Curiosity Shop illustration

One problem with the book in this our PC age, is the main villain, Mr Quilp is a hideous dwarf.  Quilp is depicted as a monster both in the way he acts and the way he looks, disabled characters in Victorian literature tend to be depicted as victims or villains and Dickens is very guilty of such representation particularly in his earlier works.

the Old Curiosity Shop illustration3
Mr and Mrs Quilp

Like all Dickens novels “The Old Curiosity Shop” came out in serial form, it was published along with short stories and the novel Barnaby Rudge  in his weekly serial “Master Humphrey’s Clock” from 1840 to 1841. This leads to some odd aspects of the novel, it begins with first person narration but this is dropped by the third chapter for third person narration. Like the Game of Thrones fans in our current time, Dickens’ fans weren’t always happy with the way the plot developped and begged Dickens to change it or spare their favourite characters. Dickens like the Thrones’ writers stuck to his own ideas. “The Old Curiosity Shop” was a hit even so. And as far as I know no one was angry that they had “wasted all this time” with a story that did not end they way they wanted it to or publicly threatened to never read anything by Dickens again (which is a good thing, since most of his best-loved novels were to come). But then Dickens didn’t have to deal with Twitter. Little Nell isn’t Daenerys Targerean, she doesn’t have any dragon to ride.

The Old Curiosity Shop is full of melodrama and colourful characters. One is Dick Swiveller, a name which sounds like a pornstar pseudonym, a well-meaning but naïve and easily manipulated young man with drama-queen tendencies. Little Nell herself is rather one dimensional as a sweet young girl of almost 14, who battles bravely against adversity, I would have liked to see more spark in her personality, maybe standing up to her grandfather’s gambling addiction. Kit (Christopher Nubbles) is more interesting, an errand boy for Nell’s grandfather, he is awkward but warm-hearted and has a special way with animals, he alone can get a cantankerous pony to do as he wishes.

When I started The Old Curiosity Shop I was 2 books ahead of my Goodreads target of 40 books this year, now I’ve fallen back to one behind. I find it difficult to rush Dickens, Pickwick Papers took me even longer, I was dipping in and out of that novel for around a year, interspersed with other books, before I finally finished it.

My rating: 4 out of 5

My progress with Dickens’s novels:

I read Pickwick Papers (1836) earlier this year, his first novel.

Hard Times — (1854), I read this in 2016, unusually for Dickens this was set away from  London in a fictitious mill town in the north of England called Coketown.

A Tale of Two Cities (1859) I reread this in 2016, it is a historical novel and lacks a lot of Dickens’ usual humour.

Great Expectations  (1861). Many lists rank this as the greatest of Dickens’s novels. I read it in 2006, when I was a member of a book club in Worcester (UK). I loved it.

I still have ten left to read:

Oliver Twist —(1839)

Nicholas Nickleby (1839)

Barnaby Rudge (1841)

Martin Chuzzlewit (1844)

Dombey and Son (1848)

David Copperfield (1850)

Bleak House (1853)

Little Dorrit (1857)

Our Mutual Friend (1865)

The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870) (six of twelve numbers completed)

which do you suggest I read next?