Monday, April 29, 2013

My Portable Happy Place

I vowed to hate the Kindle (or Nook or any other e-book vessel).

When they first came out I avoided looking at them or even reading about them. All I knew was that the most beautiful prose in the world was being coldly codified and downloaded like it was an IRS tax form or insurance company data base; and that it then showed up on this soulless rectangle of plastic, flashing on an antiseptic screen.

What was next? A program that would download the text directly into our brains so that we didn't have to go through the bother of reading it word by word?

 I've waxed poetic about my love affair with the physical presence of books before. After all, reading a book is not a purely intellectual experience. There is the crack of opening a brand new book or the heady waft of age from an old campaigner. And there is all the wonderful accoutrements you can use with printed books: bookmarks, pens, different colored highlighters, sticky tags, post-its -- I love me some office supplies.Then, there is my habit of leaving notes to my future self in the margins of some of my favorites.

And then Heir 2 gave me the first A Game of Thrones book to read. It was taking me forever and I realized it wasn't because I was a slow reader, but because I had to constantly stop reading to give my arms a rest from holding the stupid thing up. (Granted, the Game of Thrones books are not as heavy as, say, Truman.)

That was when I started to consider a Kindle.

I began to notice my own book collection. Less than 20 percent of what I had was worth re-reading. The rest I kept...why? I began sorting out what I could pass on and, even though most had been purchased either at bargain prices or second-hand, there was a lot of cash invested and now I was giving them away; most were on subjects in which I had been only mildly interested; a lot were unremarkable or redundant; none of what I'd winnowed out was worthwhile trying to sell. Yet, here I was in the middle of October with boxes of books and no library willing to take them until the spring.

How nice it would be, I thought, if I could just push a button and these mediocre books would just be gone.

And so I finally came to the conclusion that a Kindle would not be such a bad idea; in fact, I wanted fact, I wanted one badly. And so it came to be, via DG for Christmas.

I was hooked after the first book...okay, I was sort of hooked when I was allowed TO NAME MY KINDLE. At first I though that was dorky. But now I get it. It makes perfect sense to name your Kindle because it becomes your very good friend. Okay, it became my very good friend. (Tell me that's not as pathetic as it sounds...)

Now I would no more be without my Kindle than I'd be without my wallet. I'll spend the day without my cellphone, but never, ever without my Kindle. It is my stress reducer, my mini-vacation, my happy place.
I have this mental image of diving into its bright screen whenever I sense, wrongly or not, danger...or boredom and just disappearing.

It has saved me from those vast, black nights spent staring at shadows and replaying every mistake I ever made over and over in my brain. I just reach for my Kindle, prop it up in front of my face and read until I fall asleep -- it shuts itself off if I don't touch it for a certain amount of time. No more hoisting a heavy book over my head; no more turning on bright lights to read in the middle of the night; no more having to wake up all the way at night to turn off a bedside lamp or because the book has fallen over.

Statistically, they say cheap, poor-grade fiction is the most commonly down-loaded type book on a Kindle and, certainly, those are the most promoted and cost-effective reading material available through Amazon. Since, on my budget, even a $1.99 book is out of my price range, I only succumbed once; I must admit, it was pretty awful. So you do have to pay substantially more for good fiction, though nowhere near what a print version would cost. And sometimes you luck out and a good, older book will come up on sale, if you recognize it.

What my financial situation has forced me to do is read more classic literature -- available to download for free from Project Gutenberg. There is also some pretty dated stuff on the site and that's pretty entertaining also, particularly housekeeping books from over 100 years ago. So I have constant access to everything from the Bible to Dickens to Shakespeare to Mrs. Beaton.

I have what has been termed the "reader's Kindle" -- the Paperwhite. I didn't want a Fire -- which is, basically a tablet. I'm not quite sure I understand the purpose of the tablet if you already have a lap top (which I have) and a smart phone (which I don't have, but everyone else seems to). Is there some little ten minute wedge of time that everyone felt was too inconvenient to access the internet with either of these? And, if there is, couldn't you just...I don't know...wait. (This is the kind of observation that makes Heir 2 just stare at me and shake his head.)

A really cool Kindle feature (and maybe other E-book readers, I don't know), especially if you are reading an epic like A Game of Thrones, is that you can highlight a name and find out where that person fits into the story. And, for word geeks like me, you can highlight any word and it's dictionary entry will come up (particularly handy with A Game of Thrones and all those archaic terms -- you just skipped over them, didn't you?). And I can even make notes to myself -- though this is a considerably more cumbersome and you don't get to play with office supplies.

I haven't given up on print books; far from it. Nothing will ever replace the sensory joy of a real book. And I don't like relying totally on anything that requires charging or downloading or has "things" in it that can stop doing what they were designed to do. So I will always keep hard copies of my favorites.

I like thinking that I'm holding practically and entire library in my hand and I like that I can access it whenever and wherever I am. It's like having a storyteller on demand.

And now I can finally read Truman without breaking my arms.


Trasherati said...

I, too, succumbed and got a Kindle Fire.
And I hear you on all the book-based reasons for not getting one - I share them all.
But...I love it. And I can pull up recipes while listening to Dean Martin on Pandora One while puttering in the kitchen, then curl up and read, read, read without all the clutter.

So it's my new appendage.

Trasherati said...

Unrelated to a Kindle: my best friend in Roanoke has a new puppy who is a twin to Topper-Get-Down. Beautiful dog.
They are thinking about breeding him, so I've pointed her to some of your older posts : )

Leslie Shelor said...

A couple of years ago someone sent me a Nook Color in the mail. I have no idea who did it and it never occurred to me to want one. I SELL books for a living, right? But now I can't do without the thing. I can keep knitting patterns on it, it has knitting apps and listing apps and calendar apps and game apps and picture apps and email apps and Netflix apps and Internet apps and the fact that my aging laptop is ailing doesn't matter anymore. I don't have a smart phone because I'm cheap. Did I mention that I can keep knitting patterns on it? I can keep whole knitting MAGAZINES on it. Oh, yeah, and you can read books with it, too. My library is a great place to find free ones.