Samui Wining & Dining
Are Books History?

In these technological times of reading everything on screens, is the ‘Age of The Book’ coming to an end?

 

10It’s a huge, very debatable subject, and discussions and arguments about it will continue for many years to come. In our modern technological world, the question is – are books history? And, in particular, are printed travel guides and tourist literature almost obsolete?

To answer the second question we have to address the larger issue first, though there are certain differences applicable specifically to guidebooks. I, personally, grew up with a love of books; our home was filled with them, especially encyclopedias and historical tomes. When as children we asked a question of our parents about a subject or the meaning of a word we were directed to the bookshelves. And I’m so very glad they insisted that we find out for ourselves, I discovered a different plane of existence and I’m still learning about it.

However, my point is not about access to the information; nowadays you can find out lots about Samui, for instance, with just a few clicks of a mouse. And I’m an avid consumer of internet information; it’s essential for my work and has been for many years. Like lots of people nowadays, I spend countless hours in front of a computer screen and when I take a break I reach for a book. It’s a different focus for my eyes but, more importantly, it’s also a different focus for my brain. And I don’t just mean the content. There’s something about physically picking up a book that’s familiar, and, dare I say, comforting.

Books have a smell, whether old or new. They have a feel that my flat screen just can’t compete with. They hold memories, I can recall exactly where and when I first read many of my books. I remember spending the first couple of days of a holiday to Cyprus in 1998 reading the hardback edition of ‘Stalingrad’, by Antony Beevor. I sort of remember the girl I was with, a blonde I think, but I won’t forget being enthralled by the book, its weight and words enticing me in. I’ve got an Oxford English dictionary that’s more than 25 years old but I wouldn’t be parted from it. For me it’s like stepping into C.S. Lewis’s ‘Narnia’ or Conan Doyle’s ‘Lost World’. I can flick through thousands of pages and discover the meanings to words I didn’t know existed and there’s a thrill in that. Try doing that with an on-line dictionary or encyclopedia, you’ll quickly get bored, it’s just not the same and never will be.

But let’s focus in on travel guides and tourist information. I’d bet most of you who are here for the first time did quite a bit of internet browsing about Samui before you came. And not many of you will have a copy of ‘Lonely Planet’ or ‘Rough Guide to Thailand’ in your suitcase. Not as many as would have done ten or even five years ago. On the plus side, the internet is instantly accessible for most people but what are you accessing? Type the word ‘Samui’ into a search engine and you’ll get more than seven million hits, ‘Samui restaurants’ returns a million hits and ‘Samui restaurants and nightlife’ gets you 180,000. Where do you look and who do you believe? Many of the sites are blogs and individual’s opinions. And that’s fine but they aren’t experienced travel or food writers; in fact, most can barely string a coherent sentence together. But that’s a common flaw with the internet.

Research into consumer satisfaction in restaurants has been taking place continually for over half a century. And only around 25% of the total dining experience is about the food. It’s also dependent on who you are with, why you are there, the disposition of you and your dining companions, the behaviour of those around you, the service, the weather and a dozen other factors. One person can give a restaurant 9/10 and another there on the same night a 1/10 because they were simply in a bad mood. That’s not uncommon on blogs and forums.

On the other hand, travel books are bulky and can be seriously out of date. The major ones only get updated every year or two and a lot can change in a week let alone a year. Head chefs change jobs frequently here, most are on two-year contracts and they often decide to move on at the end of them. The new chef will often change the menus and even the style and new restaurants open up almost every week on Samui. And that’s where localized guides like ‘Samui Dining Guide’, ‘Samui Spa Guide’ and even this newspaper are indispensable. Now it might sound like I’m blowing the company’s own trumpet but regardless of where you are in the world, a regularly published local newspaper/magazine/guide will be far more relevant than any internationally published guidebook. And that relates to visitor attractions and local festivals as much as restaurants. Things change – quickly.

Technologically, Amazon’s new generation of the ‘Kindle’ is making an impact on book sales. Whilst Amazon does not officially add numbers to the end of each Kindle denoting its generation, most reviewers, customers and press companies refer to the current one as the ‘Kindle 3’. It’s basically an e-book reader or, more precisely, it’s a software, hardware and network platform developed by Amazon.com for the rendering and displaying of e-books and other digital media. One costs about $140 and there are more than 650,000 books available for download. Specific Kindle sales numbers are not released by the company, but it’s estimated that more than two million have already been sold worldwide.

In the latest version, the internal memory has been expanded to 4 GB and that translates to a capacity to hold in excess of 3,000 books. And the Kindle is lightweight (8.7 ounces/247g) and is compact (7.5 x 4.8 x 0.34 inches or 190 x 123 x 8.51 mm). Kindle books are now outselling the hardcover editions on Amazon by a healthy margin. Many titles, including some classics, are offered free of charge or at a low price. And one big bonus that many people don’t know about is the large number of free Kindle books available from Amazon’s ‘webstore’. And reviewers report that the screen is vastly improved from earlier versions and easy to read from.

Are books history? Not a chance! And I’m not the only person who feels passionate about them for so many reasons. Have a look around you by the pool or on the beach. Technological advancements will offer alternative means of accessing books and tourist information. However, there’s still the matter of trustworthiness and current relevance. And I think the bigger question should be – which books are history?

 


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