Books have a weird hold on me.
When I got married at 27, I owned nearly 2,000 books.
My bride-to-be, Cecilia, told me she would only marry me if I moved the books out. She allowed that I could have a single three foot shelf for books I couldn’t part with.
Books or a girl? I picked the girl.
But as the honeymoon wore off, I began to accumulate books again. Bookstores became my regular haunts.
Once, my wife had a friend over. I had not returned from work at the usual time and Cecilia’s friend asked if she worried that I might be out with another woman. “No”, she laughed, “he’s at a bookstore.” Her friend said that was good, but Cecilia said she wasn’t sure which was better. “At least if he had a mistress, he wouldn’t bring her home and leave her lying around my living room.”
When she passed away four years ago, I began to buy bookshelves. I had stashed hundreds of books in every secret spot in the house. Philosophy books emerged from underwear draws. Novels from the bathroom cabinet that no one ever opened. And twenty-five centuries of history came out from under my bed. They began to arrange themselves like mismatched Rocketts on my bookshelves.
And the bookshelves went up everywhere. Even my downstairs bathroom has a bookshelf!
When the shelves made it to my living room two years ago my son Brian said that he could at least know that I accepted her death “because you would have never tried this if she was alive.”
Or maybe it was “Now I know she’s dead because she would have killed you if she was alive.”
So, while I am not at my premarital weight of 190 pounds, I am back to my premarital book count of 2,000 volumes.
In September, I broke with 45 years of reading books exclusively on paper and bought a kindle. There are plenty of reviews of the new generation of e-books out there, so I’ll just offer a few of my reactions to this new technology.
1. I got the kindle because of the sheer volume of reading I have to do. It is not unusual for me to read ten to twelve hours a day, much of it on computer screens or from books whose type shrinks as I age.
Here the kindle is a lifesaver. Or should I say an eye saver.
I was talking a few weeks ago to a friends who is also a heavy reader who wondered why I didn’t follow his example and just read books on a smartphone. I told him he had a basic misconception if he thought that the kindle was just a poor version of an iphone or ipad. The key advantage is that it does not emit light. Type on the kindle is akin to ink on a book. To read the kindle, you use the illumination of ambient light. Hence, there is no light coming from the device itself, which greatly reduces eye strain.
Frankly, I stare at computer screens so long each day that I sometimes wonder when my eyes will start to bleed. The kindle is a big help with that.
In addition, since I can change the size of the type on the kindle to more than twice the size of the type of this blog, I can read easily even when my glasses are a bit overdue for a new prescription.
2. You can get a lot of books in kindle format, but there’s a lot that is not available.
I wanted to get a particular book by Charles Dickens, which was free on kindle, but I found that i could buy all of the British authors books, sixty-two volumes worth, for 99 cents, which seems like a pretty good deal. I have also found quite a few esoteric historical primary sources available for free. All well and good.
You will also not be disappointed if you like fairly current fiction or popular non-fiction. Most of it is there on amazon for $9.99-12.99. But, if you like to read more scholarly books, there seems to be no discount. I’m not sure why these 300 page electronic books cost 40 to 50 dollars when there are no production or transportation coasts and no possibility of items being remaindered.
There is also a major problem in getting books still covered by copyright, and hence not available for free, that were published more than five or six years ago. Take, for example, the books of Edmund Morgan. Although he is not a household name, Morgan is one of the three most important contemporary historians of early America. He has won just about every major prize for historians during a career that spans more than half a century. Amazon says that more than 15 of his books are still in print even though he has been retired for years. Kindle only offers four of his books for download, none of which are his major works.
So, if you buy a kindle, don’t throw away your library card (or your Barnes & Noble Discount Card) just yet.
3. The kindle has a “Read To Me” function that does just that. A computer voice will read just about anything on your kindle to you. I have mine read me the New York Times (which I play though the speakers of my car) each morning on my way to work.
Some of you will blanch at the notion of a computerized version of the library story time, but I love it. You will find the voice offputting at first, but after a half-hour you won’t notice it. At least until it screws up.
You see, it makes some unusual pronunciation choice. For example, we apparently have an incoming Speaker of the House with the insalubrious name of Boner.
The kindle also often fails in trying to sound out abbreviations. In the middle of one book, my computerized friend began screami9ng out “Hectameter. Hectameter. Hectameter.” I was wondering if the dark tale of modern life had suddenly become a light look at the metric system.
What the character in the book actually said was “Hm. Hm. Hm.”
4. The internet is replete with tales of broken kindles. The screens are unprotected and easily damaged.
Buy one of the $34.99 cases amazon sells before you break your heart along with your kindle.
5. Buy one. They are only 140 bucks and they hold thousands of books.