An Act of Kindleness
I first used a Kindle a month ago. My friend Javier, an avid reader, was so in love with the device that he now has little use for physical books. He invited me to try it out. The type was easy to see. It was lightweight. The built-in dictionary was a nice touch.
“It's really something,” I told him, thinking that it’d be a while before I strapped on my jet pack and bought one at the Cloud City Best Buy.
A week later, my wife and I received a Kindle as a wedding gift.
For the last three weeks, the Kindle has remained in the box. It has to be hooked up to our wireless network. My wife, who is in the middle of redefining the academic career woman paradigm, has forgotten the password.
Look, I’m thrilled we have the Kindle, and I can’t wait to use it on an upcoming, cross-country business trip. I embrace technology. Without my iPod, I would have a much more stressful relationship with my gym’s treadmill. Having a laptop has opened me up to the pleasures of answering e-mails while watching Seinfeld reruns. The Internet has provided a forum for millions to ignore my opinions.
The Kindle, though, scares me a little. Reading is one of the few activities left that doesn’t require me to sit in front of a screen. As a freelance writer, I can spend up to eight hours a day staring at a computer screen. One of those jobs, reviewing movies, requires me to stare at a giant screen for another two hours up to three times a week. Reading (good, old fashioned books) is one of the few activities where my mind can be governed by something other than technology. It’s an escape from a life of brightly colored, digitally enhanced windows. Along with working out and sleeping, reading is one of the few times when my days don’t feel like something out of a Ray Bradbury story.
Sometimes in the drowsy, endless chasm of the early afternoon, I’ll drive to my local library to return a book or a movie, and then take a long look around. As a traditional reader, one of my favorite perks is the joy of browsing, to allow myself to be surprised by something new. (Occasionally, it’s profitable. I once found a twenty-dollar bill in a library copy of Prep.)
Yes, it’s convenient to download books online, but the rush of tangible discovery is unmatched. In late May, my wife, Laura, and our friends met up in Montclair, NJ. Eventually, we wandered to the Montclair Book Center, a colossal used bookstore in the city’s artsy downtown. After wandering around the narrow aisles, perusing desirable books that were slightly overpriced, I made my way to the sports section. There, I found Bill Russell’s memoir, Second Wind. It’s a book I had wanted for years, back when Bill Simmons livened up my dreadful Friday workdays with book recommendations. The book was a little steep at nine dollars, but I had spent five years perusing yard sales, flea markets, and library sales for that blasted thing. I grabbed it with minimal internal argument.
Several weeks later, Laura and I were in nearby Doylestown, PA to apply for our wedding license. After dinner, we walked to another used bookstore that I had visited before. Heeding my father’s legendary advice, I began in the bargain section—and struck more unread gold. A beautiful hardcover first edition of Ken Dryden’s classic hockey memoir, The Game, was there for ninety-five cents. I silently celebrated as the cashier rung me up.
These stories may paint me as a bargain hunter, but that’s only partially true. Not only did I get two wonderful books well below retail price, they have stories of their own. I can look around my home and tell you something about almost every book there. My parents got me that book for Christmas; it’s inscribed. Laura gave that to me on our honeymoon. That was my grandfather’s. Oh, To Catch A Predator? An inside joke between a friend and me.
At some point, having a Kindle or a similar item will be a necessity. Now, I can see it being very useful for airline travel. Planes are little more than cattle cars with wings, a mode of transportation disguised as organized robbery. With its capacity to store thousands of books and its wafer-thin profile, I’m hoping the Kindle will provide a reader's paradise at 5,000 feet.
But on the ground, I’m all set.
Books mentioned in this column: