Will e-books be the death of Lit, capital L? The Luddites love to complain that even E Ink displays aren’t the equal of paper.
But could the Luds be right for another reason—namely, that typical e-book readers and tablets do not display covers, so that you can read disreputable works with impunity?
Across the Pond, Anita Singh, the arts and entertainment editor of the Telegraph, checked out the e-bestsellers so far this year at Amazon.co.uk, then compared them to the top performers in an old-fashioned book store chain. A Guardian contributor named Bidisha followed up, writing:
“The British reading public are a bunch of hypocrites. A recent list of Waterstones top-selling paper books of 2015, compared with the top 20 ebooks purchased from Amazon in the same period, has revealed the gulf between what we are seen to be reading and what we’re really reading. The real book versus ebook list is like seeing Dorian Grey’s public face right up against his portrait.
"While on paper we dole out our wages to prop up the careers of Colm Tóíbin, Ian McEwan and Richard Flanagan, what we read on our Kindles is very different. We’re like American winos, hiding our cheap, nasty, yet oh-so-satisfying liquor in brown paper bags—or the dead grey plastic of a Kindle. We sip fine literary wine in public and neck any old drain-clearing hooch when we’re left to our own (e-reading) devices: harrowing first-person accounts of abuse, marshmallowy love stories, gritty killings, true crime, contemporary commuting-based psychodramas with ‘girl’ and ‘train’ in the title."
Hmm. Eighteen of the 20 top authors on the Amazon list were women. Men, by contrast, dominated the Waterstone’s list of staider, far more literary works.
Perhaps in the end this is not just about E vs. P but about the sexism in the literary world.