We’ve mentioned a couple of times the “problem” that e-readers create of people not being able to tell what the person next to them on the bus or train is reading. Some people seem to feel that something precious is being lost, be it the ability to satisfy your own curiosity or the inadvertent advertising that a book seen in public provides to induce other people to buy it. There was even a brief rumor that Amazon’s Android tablet would have a second screen on the back that could allow people to see what you were reading.
However, Stephen Hough takes another view, in a piece on the UK’s Telegraph paper, in which he suggests it could be “the end of one kind of intellectual snobbery.” No longer, he writes, do we need to worry about being seen in public reading only “the right kind” of books.
No one can know whether we are reading Homer or Harold Robbins as we depress the side-buttons to change pages. In fact, one of the drawbacks to the Kindle is that we can actually forget the exact title of the book we are reading because it no longer passes before our eyes each time we pick it up.
He discusses his childhood spent reading “adult” books such as Tropic of Cancer or Lady Chatterley’s Lover, much to the disapproval of his librarian, and skipping over one particular book he saw everywhere—Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice—because of its overexposure. But he lately found an ad for the book on Amazon, and has been able to read it on his Kindle without fear anyone else might notice.
It’s worth noting that, as in many other media, pornography (or romance/erotica, some of which is basically porn without pictures) drove some of the early adoption of e-books from stores such as Hard Shell Word Factory and Ellora’s Cave, as bored housewives found they could read their favorite smutty romance novels on their Palm Pilots without anyone else being the wiser. So in some ways the lack of cover was responsible for e-books originally taking off.