Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Kate Reviews: The Yellow Wallpaper

I've been a little absent from the internet lately because I'm reaching the final stretch of assignments for my MRes: I just have to write and deliver one 5,000 word research paper, do the whole critical reflection thing and then I'm free to sit down and work on the 17,000 word prose collection which will form my dissertation. The windowsill in my bedroom is piled up with books: memoirs (or memoirs dressed up as fiction), feminist theory, sociological theory and a lot of Sylvia Plath.

That said, keeping a regular blog is a really important part of my development as a writer because it forces me to write to schedule. But there really isn't room for me to think about anything I'm not getting university credit for. I walk around composing paragraphs about whether Holden Caulfield has Borderline Personality Disorder or not in my head, the way I used to sketch scenes from my novel or the beginings of poetry. I'm still enjoying it: I may not have much time to read for pleasure but I'm enjoying what I'm reading. So in an effort to get some of it out of my head and down on paper pixels I'm writing the first of a series of reviews of the books I'm studying for my course.

The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper is one of those difficult book where you want to recommend it because it's a really genuinely good book that had a real impact on the world but at the same time it's so well written that it manages to convey every ounce of the horror of a sane person being confined and slowly going crazy from the sheer boredom. It's been compared in style to Poe but what makes it really horrific is that, unlike being cut in half with a pendulum, 'rest cures' were an accepted part of the author's reality. This is what makes The Yellow Wallpaper scarier to me than just about anything I've ever read.

The unnamed narrator is a perfectly sane, rational woman who has been prescribed a rest cure due to post natal depression. She feels down and cries fairly often and can't stand to see the baby but it's nothing that necessitates her being confined to bed and certainly nothing that means the intellectual strain of reading or writing will cause her complete mental collapse. The invariably male doctors who prescribed these rest cures seemed to think it was safer for women - sane or otherwise - to not write at all. That sounds like I'm exagerating but I promise you they actually went on record saying that women spent all their intellectual energy on childbirth (?!?!) and were pretty much unfit for anything else. It took me twenty two years and six months for a book to enrage me to the point where I hurled it into a wall but it was that passage there which finally broke me*.

A rest cure is essentially solitary confinement. It may seem over dramatic to talk about people being driven to insanity by their bedroom wallpaper but it is worth noting that this kind of isolation and confinement is something that today we only do to criminals. Deprived of any kind of mental stimulation the narrator begins to fixate on the pattern of the wallpaper in her sickroom, beginning to project her own mental state onto it.

The Yellow Wallpaper is brilliant if you understand it in relation to Jane Eyre or rather the first Mrs Rochester. The narrator's husband is not a bad guy. He genuinely cares about, even seems to love, his wife. He just doesn't respect her because back then husbands didn't respect their wives. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was prescribed a rest cure and it was only by finally defying her doctor's orders that she managed to avoid a total breakdown. Unfortunately her narrator, Bertha Rochester and countless real women did not possess this level of autonomy.

This is a really important book for me right now because it reminds me that no matter how draining, stressful or terrifying my degree might occasionally be I'm incredibly lucky to be born today when I am allowed to pursue higher education instead of being locked in a room and literally bored to insanity. There's a fashion at the moment for attacking feminism, or certain strands of feminism because all women do not have equal opportunities. For the record I think this is an important discussion which needs to happen but I also believe that it is important to acknowledge how much ground feminism has covered in the last few hundred years. While I think it's certainly not perfect, allow me to present the comparison between our reality and Charlotte Perkins Gilman as the result of the work of insirational women (including Perkins Gilman herself) as something that feminism got right.

 *It also helped explain why the copy I was using was so battered.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Words By The Water

How to write up the Words by the Water festival? I had a lovely time, saw some interesting talks, met Carol Ann Duffy and barely restrained myself from buying my own bodyweight in books. The festival organisers who awarded me the bursary sent me a list of question so -because I have a week's worth of work to catch up on- I'm going to reproduce the answers I sent them here.

What did you get out of your experience at Words by the Water?

I was especially interested to attend Sarah Wise's talk on Victorian mental healthcare, which provided a fresh perspective on a research paper I am currently writing. Other highlights included Sara Maitland who writes a genre of non fiction I didn't know existed but totally want to read and Mrs Moneypenny, whose advice has got me drawing up a five year plan.

Who inspired you?

It's unfair in a way to pick a favourite moment in a week jam packed with highlights but Carol Ann Duffy and John Sampson are the example that stands out. Carol Ann Duffy was unforgettable: calm, commanding and completely unpretentious. To hear her live was a privilige and my high point of a festival. Sharing the stage with her, John Sampson managed to make the audience sing Over the Sea to Skye. Hearing a hundred voices fill the darkened auditorium was truly magical.

Did you learn something new?

I learnt that the Necropolis in Rome was buried by early Christians and, in its pagan days, families would come to their family tombs to have feasts with the dead.

Did you meet anybody new?

Everyone was very helpful.

Is there anything you can think of that could make it better? 

I honestly can't think of anything that would have made the week better. Everyone was completely lovely and the seats were great. It might have been nice if there'd been a small, informal mixer to meet the other bursary recipients and thank the staff though.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Words By The Water

No blog post this week as I've managed to snag bursary tickets for The Words By The Water literary festival at Keswick's Theatre by the Lake. It's a really amazing opportunity and I'll have a full write up next week. Until then I'll be busy going to events, visiting family and trying to figure out how to submit an assigment by post. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Fiction Burn: It's a Crime

So on Tuesday the 22nd January I was lucky enough to be invited to perform at Fiction Burn, Newcastle's premiere performance poetry and spoken word. The theme for January was crime and I was lucky enough to share a stage with some fantastic acts, including the Moss Troopers (formerly Tall Tales and Short Stories) a storytelling trio, an improv group, several writers and two musicians, including someone who performed traditional English murder ballads. If you weren't there and want to listen to it for free (and you should) you can find a recording here, courtesy of host, Fiction Burn creator and she of the lovely steampunk jewellry, Emma Whitehall.

The Fiction Burn nights I've been to have both feautured the kind of work I wish I wrote. It has a folksy, traditional aesthetic as evidenced by the storytelling trio and murder ballads and generally tends to head in the direction of the dark, gothic and slightly strange. It is also the only spoken word night I've ever been to where you could find yourself being one of two people who have written something inspired by both greek mythology and detective noir. (Fortunately mine was very different in tone, so I think I got away with it.)

Next month's Fiction Burn theme is 'Love' and it will be taking place on Tuesday 26th of February in Bar Loco, Newcastle. If you get chance I highly recommend you check it out.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Review Must Go On

When I was packing to come to Newcastle back in September I wrote this post. It's one of the best things I've ever written,  part eulogy for a character and part review for the film that killed him. I am of course talking about the Nostalgia Critic, killed off by creator Doug Walker so he could move onto new things. It was a brave decision, explained to the fans in a lovingly crafted 210 minute movie which made people laugh and cry and spill their hearts on the internet. It was epic in just about every definition of the word and while there are always those who are afraid of change, the majority of the fan responses it inspired were truly beautiful.

Except it's not over. Because when I got back to Newcastle for second semester and checked the ThatGuyWithTheGlasses site I found this waiting for me.

He's coming back.

Not as often as he was: reviews are scheduled once every two weeks and he's still going to be working on other projects but he's back.

...And I don't know how to feel about it. Obviously I love the Nostalgia Critic and want to see more of him. But Doug Walker made an artistic choice and it was that choice that made people cry and write fanfiction and quote Slaughterhouse-Five. To Boldly Flee was so good in part because it dared to kill of its main character, someone who many fans had thought was untouchable. It was such a good lesson about growing up, moving on and letting go that it seems to burn just a little less brightly now that the consequences have been absolved.

Obviously a lot of this is my own personal feelings. When I was writing To Boldly Flee I was starting an MRes course and so pathologically terrified about the future I was having actual physical symptoms. Seeing the Nostalgia Critic choose to die and be reborn made me feel a lot less awful about facing the scary world of postgraduate education. And now I'm living in a building I love, doing a course that is challenging in all the best ways and producing work which makes my previous creative writing project look like it was written on the back of a napkin, while I was drunk (a state sadly not unknown in my life). It's not unlike looking down and realising that the crumpled feather in your hand is just a feather and holy shit, you just jumped off a building! What if those bastards had been wrong and you hadn't been able to fly?

But those are my personal feelings and this isn't about me. From an artistic point of view I'm worried because it's long been a tennent of mine that if a character is Killed Off For Real then they should stay dead and the weight of the huge boulder you should drag on top of their grave to make sure they don't go wandering is directly proportional to the emotional impact of their death. We all know the jokes about Jean Grey having a revolving door for a headstone and Rose Tyler (of Doctor Who fame)'s ressurection might have worked better if they had not spent an entire series foreshadowing her death/estrangement from the Doctor and an entire two part episode establishing that travelling between universes should be impossible and the fact that it is happening at all is threatening to destroy all of space and time and then cap it off with a final goodbye where it is established that Rose is trapped in the other universe forever where she is cut off from the Doctor but reunited with her family including the alternate version of her late father. Rose had to leave the Doctor behind but was essentially in heaven. It was a really brave and mature decision for a family show: a strong, bittersweet ending that treated the character with respect and didn't pull its punches to appease the fangirls. It's just difficult to hold any happy memories of it when, a few series down the line, Rose popped up again toting a gun bigger than she was and, contrary to the show's own Canon, the universe was not destroyed. That was the moment where I stopped being a Doctor Who fan and became merely a person who watched Doctor Who.

I'm not saying that a character can never come back from the dead: I thought it was amazing when the late Alex Meade from Ugly Betty turned up, unwrapped her bandages, announced that the whole death-by-helicopter-accident was only a cover for a sex change and could people please call her Alexis? That was awesome. Especially as Ugly Betty had established itself as that kind of show. It also helped that Alex had been "dead" when the show started so not only had we never actually seen a body, we also assumed that 'he' was just some standard Daniel couldn't live up to and not in fact a she who had been dealing with some pretty major issues of her own. Most importantly, the writers had always intended Alexis to come back and her resurrection served the plot, not some hardcore fanbase, a group so deluded in the Doctor Who fandom that they actually expected David Tennant to light the torch at the London Olympics as the pay off for a six year old joke from a TV show that Is. Not. That. Important.

It is of course too soon to say how the Nostalgia Critic's ressurection is going to pan out. The only work I have to judge him on is what's already out there. To Boldly Flee was a triumph: one of those rare low budget films that manages to turn its low budget nature into part of the humour while still spending money on the important things. It is a film where a man drives a car into a black hole and the captain's chair is some kind of recliner they obviously just had lying around. When in stealth mode a woman turns CGI invisible and her partner hides inside a cardboard box. It is a film that's obviously just been made on a prayer, some special effects wizardry and whatever was lying around in their cupboards. It's silly and fun until it isn't. Until you walk in on a friend who pulls a power drill on you and you realise he's not your friend at all but something that has flayed your friend and is wearing his skin and wants to do the same thing to you. You don't need money for that kind of horror. You just need a good enough story.

If To Boldly Flee was an explanation to fans then The Review Must Go On is very much in the same vein. It takes time to focus on the issue, creates a real sense of pathos and... I won't say dread but there's this creeping claustrophobic feeling, isn't there? It's its own story. It has atmosphere. It sets out why what's going to happen has to happen and tidies up any lingering loose ends behind it.

I for one am excited for what the Walker brothers have to show us next. Because different things work for different people and just because moving on did not turn out to be right for them at this time doesn't mean that it's not right for me, or for you. And this is a different kind of lesson isn't it, one equally beautiful and important. Sometimes you'll try to fly and fall but that doesn't mean your wings are broken. Mistakes can be unmade. And if you do let go of something you wanted, and you are very very lucky, you might just get it back.

~A Pertinent Quote~
“Omnia mutantur, nihil interit"
Everything changes and nothing is truly lost.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

We Need to Talk About Cold Days

It was cold in Newcastle when I started writing this review. The day I posted the Skyfall review the sky did begin to fall in great snowy clumps. Roofs, pavements, people turned white as snow clung to scarves and jackets, hats and hair. When I was a kid I promised myself I'd never be one of those adults who was irritated by the snow and so far I've kept it. There's so much joy in snow if you're willing to embrace it. Just look at the way even adults want to touch it and claim it, leaving the first set of tracks across virgin snow, writing your name with freezing fingers, patting it into balls, sneaking it into a friend's hood... And surely I can't be the only one who sees it falling and for a few seconds forgets they're not a kid home from school, dressed to go sledging.

The snow had another association for me this year though. I'd just read a book called Cold Days, which features a court of winter fae and while some bits of it were fantastic others were... problematic to say the least. It nearly just let this fester in my draft folder but a month later the snow has started falling again and it's time to send it out. [Massive spoilers from this point on]

[Trigger warnings for discussions of rape culture]

I'm going to say right now that when writing this article I have gone out of my way to find people who know what they are talking about, which is part of the reason it's taken so long to get out. In fact seeing the book from their perspective changed my view of it from 'weird book with some uncomfortable moments' to 'how the fuck did this get published in 2012?' That said, if I inadvertantly say something thoughtless or wrong, please let me know and I'll change it straight away.

I'm also going to say that this is not a review. The only review I can give of this book is one sentence long and reads "If you have a vagina or care about people who do this book will make you angry and confused and therefore you probably shouldn't read it." But this is not a review.

So. Cold Days. The 14th book in The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, (the reigning king of popcorn urban fantasy, for the uninitiated). It's kind of hard to know what to say about this one aspect of Cold Days, so I'm just going to break it down into facts. Here goes.

In Cold Days the (ostensibly sympathetic) main character Harry Dresden has become the Winter Knight. This means that he is in the service of Mab, the Queen of Winter. An effect of taking on the symbolic 'mantle' of Winter is that he gets some cool ice themed new powers and becomes morally greyer. Also he wants to rape every woman in sight.

I'm not joking, not least because this is not funny. I'm hardly even exagerating: Harry engages in eight violent, detailed rape fantasies in a book less than three hundred pages long. Some of these women are strangers, some are friends, one is his apprentice who he's known since she was fourteen. (These are all rapes against women incidentally, despite the fact that in the real world men get raped too. Which raises questions about claims that this is all about power and dominance and not about the titilation of heterosexual men.) This is out protagonist, the guy that we're supposed to like, who's thinking things like "Something inside me -and I'd be lying if I said that none of it was mine- let out a primal snarl and advised me to drag both of them back to my cave by the hair and do whatever I damn well pleased with them" and "If Lily was immortal, I couldn't kill her.That didn't mean I couldn't take her." Those are direct quotes, by the way.

It's not just frequency that makes this so deeply problematic. It's also the fact that Jim Butcher seems to have done his research in the the nineteenth century. At one point he claims that "Lily had spent her life a victim because of her luminous beauty. Lloyd Slate had been the last man to abuse her, but I doubted he was the first." I'd highlight the key words there but really there isn't a part of it that isn't deeply offensive. Out of every instance of soul-crushing, misogynistic Did Not Do The Research in this book, this was the one that made me want to just give up and throw it at a wall.

Because we watch too much TV
Lucyzephyr [on Tumblr] pointed out that in chapter 48, Butcher basically said that Lily being attractive would obviously lead to her being a victim. Not only physically attractive, young people are raped. That statement is messed up. We agree with this tumblr that even though the story gave a reason for these thoughts and fantasies, there were other ways to show dark, primal urges, and there was no reason for Butcher to have eight rape fantasies or for them to be as detailed as they were. Entertainment that references rape affects society. It went past what was necessary.

 The view that Butcher seems to be pushing here, of men as Bestial Savages who must Nobly Struggle against their Lower Urges and women as Fragile Flowers who must be Protected At All Costs is offensive to both women and men and belongs more in a hysterical Victorian melodrama or Richardson novel than a modern urban fantasy series that contains multiple strong female characters without, *shockgasphorror* being accused of writing Strong Female Characters. And that's why I think parts of the fanbase are so shocked and hurt. We know Jim Butcher. We like Jim Butcher. We've been with him and Harry for fourteen books now. We expected better than this.

I'm always wary of saying what an audience "deserves" from a writer. I don't believe that George R.R. Martin owes it to me (or anyone else) to lock himself in a room until he's finished Winds of Winter. I didn't like the saccharine epilogue to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows much but then JK Rowling is entitled to end her own book how she likes. I brindled when reading Amazon reviews on Carrie Asai's Samurai Girl series which claimed Asai had no right to kill off a popular character. Up until now my policy has always been to vote with your feet or, more to the point, your money. If a series upsets or disappoints you then stop supporting it. Cold Days made me question that. Doesn't Jim Butcher owe it to his fans, many of whom are female, many of whom will, statistically, have experienced some form of sexual abuse, to have the sensitivity respect and common decency to pick up a book and do some research in how to handle it sensitively? It doesn't even have to be a book: there are myriad free online resources dedicated to addressing rape culture and the misconceptions thereof. What he doing that was so important that was so important he couldn't do a Google search on how to handle a sensitive topic? 

That's assuming he even has to address the subject at all. Controversial, I know, because putting rape in a book is tantamount to showing that it takes place in the Real World, where Bad Things Happen, right? Wrong. Of course rape happens but if you end up showing that and not other forms of violent crime then were right back to wondering why it's this story that you want to tell. This article by Maggie Stiefvater calls for less gratuitous rape in literature. Not books like Speak (her example) which are well researched and add to the discussion. Books which use rape as a stock threat against women, presumably rooted in the assumption that rape is "the worst thing that can happen to a woman".
Yes. Having someone force themselves on us is pretty damn traumatic, folks. But guess what? Our personalities are formed by a whole host of experiences. Pretty much the same host of experiences that any man might encounter.
Cold Days is not Speak. It was not written to help young girls and women deal with an issue that is confusing, scary and often misunderstood. It is not well researched. It is not handled in a sensitive manner. If Jim Butcher wants to show his main character struggling with the corruptive influence of winter then fine but it is laughable to do so by resorting exclusively to rape and entirely ignoring other forms of violence and then claim he is Doing It For His Art.

The thing about Cold Days is you just cannot summon words to encompass just how mind bendingly wrong it is. The only comparison I can think of is back when a few people still didn't know the basis plot of Twilight and you found yourself explaining: "well then the baby breaks all her bones from the inside... and then there's this bit where they chew it out of her, caesarion style. Oh and then the werewolf falls in love with the baby." Except instead of people spluttering with laughter and going 'Really? Vampire baseball?' they tend to look vaguely horrified and say 'I don't understand: how can there be eight rape fantasies?' There's no way to make this transition because this whole scene was so WTF offensive there is no point in popular culture or academic theory I can relate it to. But here goes: there's the scene in the big final battle where Maeve, the villain of the week, offers to sleep with Dresden and explicitly offers to struggle and fight on the basis that he will enjoy it more. ...Are you fucking kidding me, Jim Butcher? There is physically nothing (NOTHING!) I can say about this scene. There are words and phrases like "why?", "how did this get past an editor?" and "what the actual fuck?" but when I try to combine them into a coherant sentence I get such an overwhelming feeling of rage that I need to turn the laptop off and go outside for a bit until I've calmed down.

There's been a lot of... well the polite word is contension, in the Dresden Files fandom lately about whether Harry resisting these urges is a legitimate way of establishing he is a good person because he resists or whether they are disguised power fantasies and while I can at least understand though not agree with the former view in most cases... a willing victim who is literally asking for it? People didn't see anything wrong or uncomfortable about that? People didn't feel the book had gone to a Bad Place or crossed some kind of line? Really? For a full discussion of the issue, here is Cold Days: an open letter to fans complete with subsequent annotations, which covers both sides the debate pretty well.

This review has taken me a long time to write not only because I am walking on very sensitive ground for a lot of people but also because I'm honestly stunned. I used to love these books, in no small part because they let women be powerful and important*. I was looking forwards to Cold Days because I love(d) Maeve. If you had told me a few months ago that Cold Days would leave me full of incoherant hatred and betrayal I would not have believed you. How times change.

I wish there was some over-arching point I could make to draw this all together, like 'research sensitive topics really, really carefully' or 'here is a graph with responsbilities of the author represented as x and artistic license as y' but there isn't one. I don't have a definitive answer to this mess. I can't even say for definite whether I'm going to read the next book when it comes to the library (thirteen good books, or even twelve good books and Storm Front, buys you a certain amount of second chances), only that if I do I'll be reading it through my fingers.

*That may seem immature to the men in my audience and to them I respectfully ask them to remember how frustrated they were as a kid when all the cartoons had only one or two token boys, if that and said boy characters were almost never allowed to do anything as violent, ass-kicking and (let's face it) cool as the girl characters. And how it hurt their self esteem to see themself represented as a side kick, a tag-along girlfriend, even entirely absent but never as a leader** like the girls... Oh wait, silly me that was *my* childhood.

**Incidentally I think this is one of the (many) reasons Buffy gets such deep and abiding love. Sure the dialogue's good and the writing is excellent and all but surely nothing gets that level of devotion without touching some kind of nerve?

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Kindles vs "Real Books" or: Can't We Just All Stop Fighting?

Since the launch of the e-reader the previously unobtrusive word 'kindle' has become a sensitive subject for many book lovers. Even mention the word in a suitably literary circle and you're almost guaranteed a disapproving sniff. And by literary circle I'm not talking about a modern day Bloomsbury set or even a group of tweed jacketed, leather elbowed professor types. I'm talking about literature students in their early twenties. Normal people who read normal books (if there is such a thing) and are not even remotely pretentious in their choice of reading material. So why when the subject of e-readers comes up do so many of us get sneering and/or sentimental?

I'll admit, I did not think I needed a kindle when I got one. If someone hadn't bought me one I would probably not have bothered. Who wants to pay full price for a digital book after all? But there's a lot on kindle which is either free, heavily discounted or priced very cheaply because an author is trying to make a name for themselves. 

~A Necessary Interlude:~
The Great Self Publishing Debate

I do not care if you think online self publishing is "ruining the industry". I do not care if you think that traditional publishing is a scam and you can do a better job of publishing your book from your living room with a cover you designed yourself in MS Paint* than someone whose entire career is built around publishing. It's impossible to tell what the future of the publishing industry so if anyone tells you they know it then politely suggest they check their crystal ball for cracks. 

Apart from that brief disclaimer I'm not touching the whole debate again.

~Back to the blog~

I'm not going to collect some of the more baffling charges against e-readers for your edification/enjoyment. 

"Kindles are a rip off"

There are many heavily reduced or even free books on kindle and while not all of them are good, some of them really are. For example I just bought The Life of Pi for 20p. 20p! That's the price of a Freddo!

"Kindle books have low production values"

Lower? Maybe in some cases: anyone can theoretically publish an ebook after all. Low across the board? No. 

I won't lie and say that every single kindle book I've ever read has been perfectly formatted but there's a massive gap between the occasional typo or missing space and the hotbed of of bad grammar and non standardised spelling critics of the kindle tend to imagine. Also this argument is entirely moot when you realise how many print books have a digital version, which is spell checked and formatted just as carefully as the print one. 

"Old books smell nice."

Yeah, if you dust them regularly. If you don't then they tend to smell a bit stale and musty. Buy some scented candles or something. 

"But there's just something nice about paper books, you know?"

As a student I have moved house six times in the past four years. Every time I've done this I've been restricted to what I can fit in the back of my parent's car. Moving out of my last place was such a deeply traumatic experience that for a month my dreams were all about rushing through the empty house like a rat in a maze, trying to find that last thing I hadn't packed. The three and a half boxes of books I brought home did not help with this process. The two carrier bags of books I gave away to friends, charities and book exchanges did. 

Young people are becoming more nomadic: living out of dorm rooms, childhood bedrooms and/or flats too small for a decent book case. There are three book cases in my childhood bedroom, all of which are overflowing, despite the fact I took a full crate to my tiny dorm room. The 'thing' about paper books in this scenario is a disturbing tendency to get in the way, gather dust and possibly bury you in a papery avalanche. If you have a big house with ample shelf space then good for you. If you are willing to live in a house swimming with books then I admire your dedication. But please don't assume that everyone else is in the same situation as you are. 

"Kindles are cold dead electronics"

Umm... print books aren't alive. I mean, not anymore. If I was going to get pernickity I could wonder how many e-books you have to buy before the environmental impact of making the e-reader is cancelled out by the living trees cut down to produce those paper books**. But I'm in a generous mood (and also it sounds complicated) so let's just agree that ink and paper are no more alive than circuit boards and plastic and leave it at that, shall we?

"Kindles aren't real books"

But what makes a book? Is it ink and paper or is it ideas? An e-book can make you think or feel just as much and intensely as a paper book can: the words are the same after all. An e-reader by your bedside is as good for passing a sleepless night as a paper book (or indeed a stack of them). A digital book is just as good to read on the beach as a paper one and I can guarantee you'll fit more e-books in a suitcase. A I wouldn't mind if people were rejecting kindles on a purely aesthetic basis but they always seem to be the same people who talk about the value of ideas and imagination. Ideas and imagination are, by definition, not confined to the printed page. Digital publishing is an imaginative and innovative industry. And no, not everybody who does it well but at least if gives books which are too strange, or too unfashionable, or too political for traditional publishing a chance to be read and enjoyed. 

And no, not all of them will be good. But unless you're willing to add Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey and their ilk into the literary Canon then at some point you're going to have to admit that not everything that is published is necessarily good, either. I have Shakespeare's Complete Works on my kindle. QED.

~Some Closing Remarks~

I'm not writing any of this because I hate print books. If public opinion switched in favour of e-readers I'd probably step in to point out that many people do have a preference for print books and that's their business, no need to be disparaging about it. I myself will pay more for a physical object than a PDF. 

This post is being written partly because I like tilting at windmills but also because I think that there is something fundamentally Not Okay about turning reading, which enriches so many people's lives and is deeply personal and subjective, into a competition. If you like print books: fine. If you prefer an e-reader: fine. If (like most people who own an e-reader) you use a mixture of both: also fine. As long as you're benefiting from the words who cares if you're reading them off a page or a screen?

*I have a friend who can do amazing things in MS Paint: on reflection I think this may be some kind of super power. But I digress.
**Of course, if you buy your books second hand this doesn't apply to you.