Because I’m about to start publishing on Kindle – more about this soon – I had to buy one. I’ve been a bit reluctant re e-books because I love ‘proper’ books so much. The walls of my house bend inwards thanks to the weight of the tomes collected within it. I don’t just admire the contents, I love the cover designs, dust jackets and even the smell of old books. Handling them can be a joy. And in the case of the volumes of Victorian/Edwardian magazines I collect, there is also that sense of anticipation prior to finding out what gems are waiting within them.
A bit of plastic simply can’t have the same appeal. Because I don’t have wi-fi, it took me ages to get round to even registering the thing. My early explorations on the Kindle store also proved disappointing. There is a great inconsistency about those books that are available, especially those that have been provided free of charge, and those that aren’t. I was pleased to download a free copy of ‘No Name’, a novel by Wilkie Collins, because I’ve heard that it ranks almost as highly as ‘The Woman in White’ and I’ve long intended to read it. But when, on the same tack, I went looking for another 19th century author, Anthony Trollope, I found that the one novel by him I fancied reading, ‘The Eustace Diamonds’, wasn’t available at all. Nor were there any free copies of Plato’s ‘Republic’ and similar, which seemed surprising.
Basically, I was just exploring at random. I was surprised at how many books on my ‘to read’ list simply weren’t available. I was also surprised at the price set on some of the old crime novels I fancied. I’m old-fashioned enough to think ‘if it’s more expensive than a second-hand paperback, I’d rather track down the paperback’. Having said that, I am in the habit now of not keeping fiction books once I’ve read them – unless I really really loved them – because of lack of shelf space, so getting them on Kindle would be more sensible. (Of course, the library is an even better option especially since they are so under threat).
Many of the classic, public domain ghost and folklore books are not currently available. ‘The Night Side of Nature’ has just popped up, and it’ll cost you nearly a fiver (I need to jump on this bandwagon!). I did find one scarce edition of an Elliott O’Donnell (which is not public domain) for a couple of quid, so I decided to get that just for the sake of buying something.
And then I stumbled upon something extraordinary. Books I really wanted but whose print editions I have never been able to afford, and all for less than a fiver. I speak of the splendid editions of great ghost story collections by Ash Tree Press. Ash Tree Press used to be based just up the road from me, at Penyffordd in Flintshire, and I met the publisher, Barbara Roden, a year or two before she and her husband moved to Canada. I think she’d just published her first book, a reprint of Munby’s ‘The Alabaster Hand’. Thanks to bringing on board experts like Jack Adrian, Ash Tree Press grew and grew because the stories they were republishing were not only from scarce editions but many had never been anthologised before. The ATP books rapidly became collectors’ editions in their own right.
The volumes I most regretted not buying as they were published were the three A M Burrage collections edited by Jack Adrian. Each is now worth £100+. A few years ago I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Adrian’s first collection of previously unpublished Burrage ghost stories, ‘Warning Whispers’ (Equation Chillers) for a couple of quid at a book fair, but this book has now been greatly expanded by ATP. ’Warning Whispers’ was enough, as if the few oft-anthologised stories by Burrage weren’t already enough, to convince me that I needed to read more by this spooky genius. I’ve been waiting for Wordsworth to add at least the original editions of Burrage’s collections to their already excellent list of Horror and Mystery books but it hasn’t happened. To get hold of the far superior Ash Tree Press editions for less than the price of a new paperback really is a treat.
So, my Kindle has ceased to be merely a tool for a budding e-publisher. It has become what it’s supposed to be, a source of reading pleasure. Kindle is clearly in its infancy. But the idea of reprinting rare works at an affordable price is certainly one advantage of this gizmo, if people care to take up the challenge. I have to say though – I’m still not happy about the name. Kindle is too close to ‘kindling’. And that makes me think of burning books.