Our language is constantly being debased in ways I hate. A “notebook” is apparently a small laptop, not a little exercise book on which to scribble thoughts. A “tablet” is yet another screened device, not a pill that you put into your mouth. I noticed the other day that a plane I was riding on at 35,000 feet was referred to as an “airbus” – as if it were London’s number 11 bus that just happened to be floating among the clouds. Another time I heard a plane described as a “minibus”. Do a group of people convene in a Bilderberg-like secret location and conclude that certain words should be re-defined?
I read recently that Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, an annual, ever-expanding trove of information covering the most obscure (but usually superior) antique British second features through to modern Hollywood grade Z junk, will shortly cease publication. We’ve been hearing for years that hard-cover books, and especially certain kinds of reference books, are now obsolete thanks to the trend towards e-books and finding instant information on the internet. The news of the Movie Guide’s demise brought it home to me. Is it really true that the next generation will spend their whole day staring at screens, that they will never appreciate the soothing, supple sensation of holding a book in their hands? I can see the day coming when the word “book” will only have the connotation of words in the form of a story on a screen. And when the sight of bookshelves will provoke derision, rather like those funny Martians advertising Smash back in the 1970s used to laugh at antiquated ways of making mashed potato.
Yet I will resist. This is one trend I adamantly refuse to embrace. I was a solitary child. I made my own entertainment. Many times my sole companions were RJ Unstead’s history books or Ken Wlaschin’s The World’s Great Movie Stars or a series of books called Tell Me Why. I never really got into novels but I was – if I say so myself – fairly intellectually curious, so much so that if I didn’t know a word, I’d look it up in the dictionary. I just liked picking up books and investigating them. Today’s children, if they become accustomed to only read on a gadget, will never experience this sensuous pleasure. For that reason I shall continue to be a cheerleader for books of the old-fashioned kind. The Encyclopedia Britanica may now be available at the touch of a pin’s head. But I’d still rather have leather-bound volumes by a roaring fire in a library.
By the way, I notice that more than 90 per cent of sales of my book are still of the print edition. So somebody obviously agrees with me. So there!