June 7, 2013 6:35 pm

Why Kindles, iPads and apps cannot replace my precious books

Books have several advantages over electronic devices, not least the fact you can throw them

Sir David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

I gather from your various columns that you are a bibliophile; a reader and gatherer of books which come in paper form. The view of the new boss of Pearson, owner of Financial Times, is that ebooks are now in. Given that his words suggest a sea change in reading habits is under way, will you be relining your shelves with Kindles, iPads and apps? Is there a danger that your job is at stake if you continue to appear to live in the past? How are you finding a balance in these electronic times? I might add that I remain a dedicated “hard copy” reader.

I hope I don’t get the sack. Surely even for ebooks and e-columns, human writers are still needed? I think the days when a computer could be expected to write entirely creatively are still far away.

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David Tang

Remember “Deep Blue”, the IBM computer that played the world chess champion Kasparov? Deep Blue lost in the first set and only narrowly beat Kasparov in the second with human reprogramming in between games. So I remain sceptical that monkeys would succeed in typing out anything of Shakespearean quality. I might yet avoid my P45.

Certainly, I won’t be throwing away all my books and substituting them with a Kindle and an iPad, for theoretically, that’s all you would need on the shelf given their powerful memories can store yards of books. But what a forlorn shelf it would look! I am still an unimpeachable fan of holding a book in my hand and feeling its binding and corners and thickness and sometimes, especially with old volumes, smelling the pages. Books also look marvellous and decorative on the shelves especially in a dining room, for there is no greater visual background than a collection of books at dinner, particularly when I am dining alone and feeling the warmth of real and silent companionship, like a Labrador at one’s feet.

There is also another distinct advantage of a book over a Kindle or any electronic device: one can throw the former and still be able to pick it up intacto; whereas if the latter were to be thrown, it would almost certainly break. So for those of us who like to throw things occasionally to vent our irritation or anger, it is much more sensible to throw books across a room rather than an iPad, say.

Furthermore, I would hate to have one device storing all the books I want to read – and I usually have a biography, a novel, and a book of poetry going at the same time. To lump them all under the same cyber roof of an electronic device seems to me to be rather untidy, like eating, say, a cottage pie and having a curry, lasagne and sweet and sour pork around you at the same time . . .

. . .

Does the quadrangle remain the most sensible design for a house or is it so out of fashion that it should now be regarded as architecturally extinct?

It would be a hugely sad mistake if the quadrangle were not to be revived. For me, it remains not only a most sensible way of living, but also the most elegant. The Chinese courtyard houses and the Spanish haciendas, not to mention all the Oxbridge colleges, exude a great sense of intimacy and comfort which definitely comes from the symmetry of the quad. Residents also look into it and connect with the rest of the buildings and everyone feels “at home”.

Even at Buckingham Palace, which is a very grand house in the middle of London, the quadrangle somehow brings a soothing rather than an imposing sense of grandeur.

I once took a delegation of Chinese for tea to meet a senior member of the royal family whom I persuaded to allow us to enter through the main gates instead of the small door on the right in the forecourt. As we did so on the day, our entourage was swept into the quadrangle, and utterly to my surprise, there was a proper line-up of guards standing erect in shining buckles and immaculately polished boots. I thought to myself how our host had really given us a tremendous lot of face, until a rather discreet man in a grey suit came up to me and whispered in my ear that I really ought to shepherd my delegation briskly into the house as the king of Saudi Arabia, who was staying with Her Majesty for a state visit, was arriving back soon with his motorcade.

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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