305Douglas Adams is quoted by The Passive Voice on 4 April: “Lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food.”

As aphorisms go it’s OK I guess, but Adams is pretending we can only entertain one kind of love, which just isn’t true. People who collect china no doubt manage to take nourishment. Some may even enjoy it. To them a plate of lamb chops may say something different (more?) than it does to you or me. Just because a soup tureen is made for soup doesn’t mean it can’t be used to hold stew, pot pourri or even unpaid bills.

It used to be that “lovers of print” meant those bibliophiles who would study the vehicle with scant regard for its cargo. Obviously an extreme form of dilettantism — some collectors do indeed resist the temptation of ever opening their volumes so as not to decrease their value; but as manias go it’s surely a rather harmless one. But such lovers of print — actually more lovers of bindings — are rare. Just because you collect books doesn’t need to mean that you don’t like reading books — even if that ends up being other books than the ones you collect. And it certainly doesn’t have mean that you don’t value the content.

Adams’ words come from a 2001 BBC broadcast “The hitchhiker’s guide to the future”. As this was six years before the introduction of the Kindle, he was obviously well into forecasting mode. It’s hard to remember what we all thought back then about what came to be known as e-books. Probably not a lot. Of course the idea had been around: they feature in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, published in the early 1950s, and in a recent post I suggested that William Morris was predicting e-books in 1893. So if we’d spent any time thinking about the idea, I guess we could have managed to have a coherent discussion. But in 2001 offset looked eternal, and anyone who suggested it was doomed would have been greeted as a joker. But obviously there were some brave souls who risked ridicule and made the suggestion. They would of course have been duly laughed at.

Whatever. As I keep pointing out it’s not either or, it’s both and. Many a lover of print can be found reading an e-book. Some are agnostic as to which is preferable. But who cares? If we’d been told in 2001 that every “classic” of English literature would be available free in a decade or so’s time, I suspect that even the most ardent paper and print promoter might have been excited. Just because we relish a well typeset and printed volume with good paper, generous margins and a sturdy binding does not mean that when we sit down to table we dine off Crown Derby with no food on it.

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