Entertainment Books

Sunday 8 December 2019

iPad, therefore I read my first ebook...

For the first time ever, I brought no physical books with me on a recent trip abroad. This was partly because of Ryanair's baggage restrictions and partly because of a newly acquired iPad, into which I'd downloaded free books that were out of copyright (Chekhov, Joyce, Forster) and a few purchased acquisitions (Julian Barnes, Philip French, Jan Morris).

I found the experience, which was new to me, surprising. While I missed the pleasurably tactile sensation of having a book in my hand, I took easily to reading on screen and will certainly be content with ebooks on future excursions.

So it doesn't surprise me to learn that ebook sales in the US have leapt in the past year from 16pc of all books sold to 23pc and that a quarter of these books are being read on iPads and other tablets, of which 122 million were sold in 2012. But I'd certainly fear for traditional publishing.


Perhaps the year's most notable literary centenary is that of Albert Camus, who was born 100 years ago in November and who's also notable for being the shortest-lived survivor of any Nobel laureateship – he died in a car accident in 1960, just two years after receiving the honour.

Yet he's not as widely read today as in the 1960s when every earnest young undergraduate carried around a copy of The Outsider (L'Etranger), whose bracing mood of alienation was set by its famous opening line: "Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure."

That translation was by Stuart Gilbert and now Sandra Smith, the superb translator of Irene Nemirovsky's novels, offers a version for a new generation of readers. This comes in a very elegant Penguin hardback.

As for the opening line, Smith offers "My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday" – a small change but immediately more personal. Whether the book's potency attracts a new generation of undergraduates remains to be seen. I hope it does.

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