Ageing readers, start taking the tablet - if only for the sake of your eyes
Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite.
Own up: which do you prefer, a traditional book or an electronic reading device? Until very recently, that probably depended largely on how old you are. Look in any train carriage and you'll see young men and women with their heads bent into their Kindles and iPads, oblivious to the world around them.
But, for those of us of a certain fuddy-duddy, semi-Neanderthal age, to mention even a year ago that we might like some of our books served digitally was to risk evoking scorn among one's age-mates.
''What? An electronic reader? Kindle? iPad? I don't want one of those things,'' would come the mockery. ''It's proper books for me. Real books are easier to read, anyway.''
So a traitor like me with my Kindle hidden in my jacket pocket would bite my tongue, suspecting I'd be considered a bit flash, mutton reading like lamb, so to speak, if I admitted my dirty secret.
Traditionalists, however, rarely win the battle. And it's increasingly clear that old fogey attitudes are softening as citizens of the Third Age are finding electronic readers have made excellent birthday presents for them.
And now, I suspect, has come the somewhat ironic clincher. While our tactile love of the traditional book cannot be denied, new research from Germany shows that those of pensionable age find pages on backlit reading devices easier to read than words on the printed page. That is to say, the generation most opposed to them are the people they suit best.
Nor, it seems, have the boffins found any evidence to support the popular view that digital devices are more tiring on the eyes. In fact, one of the tablet's great advantages is that its type can be enlarged to suit a reader's eyesight. No more searching for large-print books for Aunt Beatrice. At the touch of a button, she can have the words of E. L. James as big as she needs them.
For companies such as Amazon, Samsung and Apple, the main makers of digital readers, this sort of information - and it comes from the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, a place where you might think they know a thing or two about books - must be like manna from heaven.
It isn't enough that grandparents simply stand back and watch with a mixture of awe, pride and envy as their grandchildren control an Xbox or a Wii with fingers faster than quicksilver. We silver surfers make up a huge market, and anything that encourages us to enjoy the digital reading revolution has to be good for e-reader manufacturers. As it turns out, it is good for us, too.
I was the first person I know to buy a Kindle when I began republishing my out-of-print novels on Amazon. Basically, I just wanted to see what they looked like on a tablet, but I remember feeling the shadow of treachery as I crossed the line to digital.
Like most people, I've always loved books. And as a family, we have thousands, walls of shelves devoted to them and the memories they hold. They furnish a home very cosily.
But when I went digital I quickly discovered that one doesn't necessarily have to make a choice.
I buy as many books as ever, more actually, the only difference being that some are on paper and others are downloaded.
Of course, there are few artefacts as perfect as a well-published book with an elegant cover and typeface. Most books, though, are not like that. Some I want simply for instant information; others, pitched cheaply at the mass market, are not objects to cherish, no matter how worthwhile their contents.
Thus my Kindle is now crammed with hundreds of weightless digital books, often bought on the click of a whim, for reading on the Tube, in bed and on aeroplanes, while my recent birthday and Christmas presents came defiantly from bookshops in stiff hardback form.
Almost every week it seems new statistics tell us how well digital books are doing, with Jeremiahs predicting the death of traditional publishing. I'm not so sure. I suspect we will soon reach a ceiling on digital books, leaving perhaps smaller publishers to flourish, too. In the meantime, I can't urge any aged luddites strongly enough to give your eyes a break and the electronic reader a go. You might find you like it.
Ray Connolly is a novelist.
The Telegraph, London