The London Book Fair is a hypersocial time for me. Lots of people to catch up with, meetings all day. Trade-fair wayfinding, balancing directory, map, briefcase and much-needed coffee. Hectic and fun. But every year, after the first day, when jetlag starts to press down, between the fair meetings and the dinner meeting, I need a pub and a book and an hour or two of quiet. Except now, as I sit down to a pint of Shepherd Neame’s finest, I find myself pulling out the Reader in a crowded bar off Charing Cross Road.
I feel like a dork.
Reading in a busy pub is bad enough, but those of us who indulge in books in public places are used to that. You find a spot off to the side with a bit of light and tough it out. With the Reader, although I’m sure no one notices, I have a burning-ears feeling, as if I had spread out my taxes and was filing a return in the middle of happy hour.
But once again, if the book is any good (as Pessl’s Calamity Physics is) after a while I don’t care. The drink was nice, I had my one-hour mental vacation, and all was well.
Is self-consciousness the burden of the early adopter? I remember my early days with a cellphone. The first time it rang in a public place, I felt like I had grown horns, and the people around me looked at me as if I had suddenly broken out with smallpox. Talking on that ungainly mobile in the doorway of the restaurant, I felt conspicuous and uncomfortable. I felt like a dork. Fast-forward ten years and it seems like half of us at any given time have a phone grafted to our ear. Not that e-books will be ubiquitous like cellphones, just that self-consciousness with new technology seems to be surprisingly fleeting.