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knowledge is weak and
useless, and knowledge
without integrity is
dangerous and dreadful.
– Samuel Johnson
Rekindling a Love of Books
by Stephen Morris
Some people think deeply about religion. Some think deeply about politics. Some think deeply about the Red Sox. (Well ... define "deep.")
I think deeply about books. I write them; I publish them; I sell them; I review them; and, occasionally, I even read them. As a bibliophile I have been unabashed in my love and support of independent booksellers, underpaid writers, and local booksellers.
But I also admit to being guilty of "literary" (as opposed to "literal") adultery. I have an Amazon account, and when someone recommends a back list book that sounds interesting, I go to Amazon, find it, and order a copy used, sometimes for as little as $0.01 (plus $3.99 shipping). I justify this by the small ecological footprint, it leaves. No additional dead trees; no fossil fuel burned en route to the bookstore.
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My conscience on transacting business was assuaged when I talked to a bookseller friend who was lamenting her inability to compete with the box stores on best-sellers, but who also said that the used book sales via Amazon was the fastest growing part of her business. I wonder how Amazon and the local bookseller split that penny?
We lost our local bookstore recently in my home town, but a replacement materialized quickly. The new proprietor financed her entrepreneurial effort by selling CSA shares, following the model of Community Supported Agriculture. It only took a nano-second for me to fork over $100 for a membership. It's a no-brainer to keep a local bookstore that stages author events, provides an outlet for local product, and keeps that used book mill churning.
But now this situation is muddied further. Anticipating a convalescence that would afford me some serious reading time, my sister offered to buy me a Kindle as a gift. Kindle is the reading device offered exclusively through Amazon.
"Reading device" ... yuk. I like books, I like paper on ink, I like something I can take to the beach, I like something that I can pass along to a friend. Initially, I declined, but later reversed myself. The publishing professional in me spoke up and said "How can you be dismissive of something you've never tried." Other reading devices are offered by Sony, Barnes & Noble, and Apple with its iPad.
The Kindle arrived in a few days, simply and ecologically packaged.. Turning it on (it comes fully charged) and getting started was so easy that even a college-educated adult can manage it. Within a few minutes I had downloaded my first book, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson. This is the third in the "Dragon Girl" series. I had been hooked by the first two, but held off on the series climax since it was available only in hard-cover at $27.95. A call to my local book seller confirmed it was not in stock (she wasn't playing the best-seller game, remember?), but she could get it by special order in a week or so. For $9.99, the Kindle book was mine. No round trip to town. No waiting until the next order from the distributor arrives.
First round to Kindle. The device itself it the literary equivalent of the phrase "You can't be too rich or too thin." It's lightweight; the screen image is good; the controls are well-designed and convenient. I spent my next few days devouring the Dragon Girl, taking her with me everywhere, pulling out the Kindle to sneak in a few pages whenever the chance presented itself. For reading a text-only book, I found the Kindle to be a delight.
Round two to the Kindle, too. Coming out for the start of the third however, the Kindle began showing its limitations. The device has lots of other features, such as allowing downloads of magazines and blogs. The more I looked into them, however, the more valueless the features became. If I don't have time to read blogs in my daily life, why do I want to pay money to be able to carry them around with me on my sleek, little device? I considered subscribing to The New Yorker, a wonderful magazine that I used to subscribe to. I stopped when I found myself taking unread stacks to the recycling center.
I read some customer reviews (a decidedly good Kindle feature) and found that most subscribers were disappointed with their Kindle New Yorkers. You just can't flip through a sequential electronic device like you can a magazine. Plus, there are no cartoons in the Kindle version. No cartoons? Forgedaboutit.
I finished my Dragon Girl book. My first inclination, upon finishing a good book, is to pass it along to someone I love. I had already done that with the first two volumes of the "Dragon Girl." To give my Kindle version, I'd have to part with the device itself. Kindle also offers access to the 'Net via Google, but it's such a visually limited version, that you'd use it only in a pinch.
Kindle also offers free downloads of books from the public domain. Imagine, the entire works of Shakespeare for free in the blink of a download. Granted, this is mind-bending, but how many of us really want to walk around with the complete works of the Bard in our back pocket? Hm-m-m, think I will sneak in a few pages of King Lear while I'm killing time here in the check-out line. Ditto Moby Dick and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
Kindle also offers a number of free new books. These tend to start with the opening line "Her breast heaved as he fumbled with the buttons of her blouse, his manhood pulsing like the ..." As for the best-sellers, they're really not cheap. I checked on the biography of baseball star Henry Aaron. Retail $29.95, Kindle $16.95 ... or you can buy the real deal used for $10.00.
I will buy the book used, supporting some independent local book-seller somewhere, read it, pass it along to my baseball-crazed sons, and when they're done, I will donate it to the local library or take it to my local book seller who can put it on her shelves for local browsers and list it on Amazon for that bargain-hunter out there in electron land. This seems like a much better idea than having a bunch of electrons in my exclusive use in my elegant, slim Kindle. All the middle rounds to the traditional book.
For the time being, it's a victory for the traditional book by unanimous decision.
I'm glad I have a Kindle, and I'm glad I got it as a gift. I will keep it for travel and for those rare times when I have an irresistible urge to read a Jane Austen novel. Left to my own devices, I'd pass until the price comes down to $19.99 (probably not far in the future).
The media world is a swamp these days, well beyond the ability of the mortal to comprehend. Too many devices, too much on the learning curve, and too little being produced in the way of original content. Now if I could train my Kindle to operate my television set, or to figure out why it takes three separate remote controls for me to watch the evening news. Last night my cable provider told me that I can download the first of the "Dragon Girl" movies ... for free, but only if I can figure out how.
Stephen Morris is editor of Green Living Journal. His latest novel, Stories and Tunes, is now available as a Kindle edition.
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