Don't get me wrong.
I'm all for new technology.
But with every technological advancement, something changes.
Sometimes we have to give something up – something that we have grown rather fond of – to make way for the new stuff.
And that's what is currently happening on our Underground trains as we move over in ever-greater numbers to e-readers.
Bookspotting on the London Underground is becoming an endangered pastime.
As I glance along my carriage right now I can see three e-reader devices. Many of my fellow passengers are reading Metro, the free newspaper. But the books on display are still revealing and surprising.
At the far end of the carriage, a 20-something guy is reading a Terry Pratchett paperback (from this distance I can't tell which one, but it is predominantly blue in colour so may well be the very funny Mort). Sir Terry was also once listed – dubious distinction, this – as the author most likely to be stolen from libraries.
Next to Discworld Boy, a 20-something woman is reading a battered Penguin Classic (an olive green one from the 70's or 80's). Two seats along from Green Penguin, a woman is fanning herself with a chunky potboiler. (I am rather snobbishly assuming it is a potboiler because it has shiny, embossed lettering on it although I can't actually see the title because she is wafting it quite vigorously.)
When she stops wafting, I can see that it is Edward Rurtherford's Dublin. I make two mental notes: one, to re-read his excellent London, and the other… not to be so sneering about books with shiny, embossed lettering.
At Shiny Embossed Woman's shoulder is a man in a suit with a walking stick and he is reading something called Interpret the Earth: Ten Ways to be Wrong. Very intriguing title, a book I’d never heard of, and I jot down the title for future reference.
Next to Serious Book Man I see The Invisible Man – okay, I didn’t “see” The Invisible Man, ha-ha, I saw someone reading a newish Penguin edition of H.G Wells’s classic. A few Metro newspapers along from him there’s Ian Rankin’s Tooth & Nail – in which Rankin’s Edinburgh cop Inspector Rebus comes to London).
I’ve lost count now of the number of times I’ve been inspired to buy a book having seen someone reading it on the Underground – that's how I discovered the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
It was my first graphic novel experience and I doubt that I would have thought of it without having been “prodded” by my fellow passenger.
My Book Snob self can see the advantage in an e-reader: I can now read trashy fiction in public without fear of judgment from others in the Book Snob community (and we are a very judgmental bunch, dontcha know).
But as the e-reader slowly, but surely, spreads through the carriages of the London Underground, I’m enjoying the tail-end of an era. Someone’s just got on at Highgate clutching a copy of Marx for Beginners. Very Highgate.
Click the button below to book a place on one of my scheduled public tours…
A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.