provencal runner 001 I am reading Gladys Mitchell’s classic mystery, Death at the Opera. The opera in question is Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, The Mikado. Click on that link and you will find midis of all the music, complete librettos so that you can sing along, on-screen puzzles, plot summaries, and all kinds of great stuff.

I love The Mikado. Some day, I would like to sing Katisha in a production in which Chanthaboune sings Yum-Yum.

By a happy coincidence,  I found a DVD copy of Eric Idle’s production of The Mikado, which is my favorite version (excepting live productions, which are always better, by definition). I own this on VHS, but of course I have no way to view it. I have tried in the past to buy it on DVD, and had given up on ever finding it in that form. I was in the local Hastings yesterday, following through on #2 son’s request that I rent Zelda for him, and happened upon this treasure.

I rented it, and walked away thinking that I might need to beg the rental place to sell it to me, or, if they would not, then to “lose” it so that they would have to. Then it struck me that the existence of that single DVD implied that the piece was now widely available in DVD form. Sure enough, a quick check confirmed this. I had given up too soon in my search for it.

This is the thing about electronic storage of information. The trouble is not in storing the information safely, but in getting the information out of storage when you need it. We can still read a book from centuries ago, if it has been stored correctly, but my 2002 VHS tape is sealed like a tomb and can never be watched again — unless I carry it with me, hoping to find myself in the home of someone who still has a VHS machine.

I was thinking about this issue in relation to electronic books.

I am reading this month’s book club book , Mrs. Dalloway, electronically. This is Virginia Woolf’s 1924 opus, in an Australian e-book. There is something wonderful about being in America, reading an Australian electronic storage of a work by a British novelist of the last century.

I don’t read e-books. I have never read an e-book. I have no desire to read e-books. I am one of the legions of people who like the physical experience of reading physical books. If you ask us — and even, sometimes, if you don’t ask us — we will tell you how we don’t like e-books, or even the idea of e-books. If we have to read them on a computer, then we are giving up the comfort of reading in an armchair or under a tree. If we read them on little portable devices, we find the screens too small and the device unsuited to reading. We just like paper, that’s all.

Someone, and it might have been joeandrieu, was claiming recently that it is not that we don’t like to read onscreen, because we do that all the time. It is that the content of books is generally not suited to the way we read screens. Novelists don’t write for the screen. That is the problem, not our dislike of reading on screens. Someone else — and I think it was andrew-plus-numbers — said that physical books are just old-fashioned and we should get over ourselves.

I’ll let you know what I think of reading Mrs. Dalloway on a screen, and then we can decide whether it is the screen or Virginia Woolf who gets the credit or the blame for the level of satisfaction. Or it may just be me. We’ll see. Either way, can the existence of this e-book on the web guarantee it readability in the future to the extent that its existence as a physical book did in the past? When our current e-book reading devices are on the junk heap because machinery just doesn’t last very long, will it be the group mind of the web or the semi-permanence of paper that will keep Woolf available to us?

In any case, today I have to do some repetitive tasks, and  I intend to do them while watching The Mikado. I am looking forward to it.