Tag Archives: books

I Heart My Kindle

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There are some pieces of technology that have come into my life and changed it completely.

One of those is my Roomba. Another, my Kindle.

I agonized over whether or not to buy one. My wife didn’t have such ambivalence, and got one for Christmas one year. As with most of the technology that she adopts years ahead of me (early .mp3 player, iPod Touch, iPad, car manufactured since 1997), I was almost immediately envious.

I dallied, though. There were lots of books – real books, made of paper and such – that I owned and had not yet read lining the shelves of our home. (I’m a slow reader.) Plus, I liked the “feel” of the book. I liked seeing my bookmark advance through the pages. I liked piling a year’s worth of finished tomes on my nightstand, a trophy to my accomplishment.

Amazon Kindle

Keep your friends close, and your Kindle closer.

Then the local bookstore closed.

We had watched Borders languish for years. We watched its clumsy foray into the e-reader business, its haphazard divorce from Amazon, its efforts to first reduce then rapidly expand its book selections. Its demise was foretold in a hundred different ways.

When finally it closed, I panicked. There was a Barnes and Noble – which I always favored over Borders anyway – within driving distance, but it was rare that we found ourselves out that way. So, I bit the bullet and bought the Kindle.

And oh, how I love it so.

The free classics I’ve downloaded onto the thing have probably more than paid for it. And every morning, I check my e-mail to see what deals Amazon is offering on books now. I actually make a point of visiting the Books section on NYTimes.com regularly and keep a mental list of titles that interest me that might come up at a discount through Amazon.

Mine is the Kindle Touch – lightweight and easy to use. It’s easier to hold and read in bed than a book, and I love that I can pick up where I left off on my phone if I have some downtime. I’ve even found a love for cargo pants, because the Kindle slides so easily into one of the pockets on the legs.

It’s just awesome.

There are some disadvantages. For instance, I can’t begin to tell you how many books I’ve read this year, as I move seamlessly from one book to the next. Also, people automatically assume that you’re reading smut. Alas, I don’t read the kind of books that folks usually read on a Kindle, but that’s OK; folks will just have to realize how highbrow I am by actually engaging me in conversation.

(A point of etiquette: it’s rude to ask someone what they’re reading on their Kindle. Just assume it’s “Fifty Shades of Gray.”)

Those are the only drawbacks I’ve been able to find, however. It’s functionally awesome, the battery lasts forever, the little blip between page turns doesn’t bother me in the least, and I’m reading far more now than I did, and probably spending less on books. Also, as my house is out of places to put a bookshelf, there’s an advantage there as well. Even packing for trips is easier, as I’m not winnowing down a stack of books to fit in my bag and lug around with me. Just drop the Kindle in the pocket with my pipe and tobacco, and I’m good to go.

For all the booksellers out there: bless you. You’re doing God’s work. And I hope you find your reward in heaven.

But don’t be surprised if your reward is a Kindle, and every book is free.

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A Want to Read

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To write, I must read.

This has long been the understanding between myself and the words that are both my profession and my pastime. I’m not sure precisely the ratio (1:2? some inane fraction?), but I believe with certainty that there is one of words consumed to words excreted onto the page by my hand. (Lovely visual, no?) Consonants are my calories.

Books

It'd take me a lifetime to get through these. Or longer.

Burnout tends to occur when I have exhausted my reservoir of words. An evening immersed in literature will almost organically lead to a morning rife with wordplay, the turns of phrase spinning like a top across my desk and the prose pouring perfectly from the points of my, ummm, you know, fingers.

Ah, but here I am, exhausted for want of words.

Writing well and writing quickly have been the foundation of my professional life for more than a decade. It is the reason I’m employable at all. It is one of only a very small handful of things that I would profess to do well. (Driving and fettuccini alfredo also are on that list.)

On many occasions, the prospect of curling up in some quiet corner with a book would strike me as it would most people: incredibly boring. But then, this is not one of those times. There is a couch calling my name – one with no video game controllers, no television or DVD remotes. To everything there is a season, and this season was made for books.

Part of my problem, unfortunately, is that it takes me an incredibly long time to read anything. I read very slowly. I write far faster than I read. I watch my wife tear through books (albeit trashy ones) at an alarming rate while I ponder over my (far more dense) matters. I can settle in for hours with a book and make very little progress in advancing the bookmark through the pages. This leads to frustration, and leads me to leave a tome obscuring the digital display on my alarm clock by the bed while I try to ignore it.

Another aspect to reading is the paradox of choice. My wife and I both are bibliophiles. Our friends hate to help us move because they are aware of the great many extremely heavy boxes of books that must be shuttled from one residence to another. Since I read so slowly, choosing a title is selecting a partner that will be inseparable from me for months at a stretch. So I’ve a backlog of books that I’ve just been meaning to get around to.

The weekend approaches when I’ll have little more to do than lay around a hotel room and read. The hotel is the Crown Plaza, so I’m hoping it’s at least tastefully appointed. My wife has a review course that she will be taking there before she takes her nurse practitioner boards, and will be occupied most of the weekend with that, leaving me to my own devices in the room.

I’m a little beyond midway in Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America.” I doubt I’ll finish it this weekend. Especially since I plan to revisit the shelf and select another book to take with me. Nothing against Mr. Roth, of course – his book has earned all the accolades that it’s received.

But, distance makes the heart grow fonder.

Blessed are the Banned Books

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Books

Among the books people have tried to ban in the past year are "Naked Lunch," which is a pretty disturbing book, and "And Tango Makes Three," which is a child's picture book about a baby penguin.

The worst, most graphic book I’ve ever read was William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch.” I read it because I have a certain appreciation for the “beatnik” writers (especially Jack Kerouac, a poster of hung over my desk for some time before it finally fell to pieces), and because the name of my favorite band, Steely Dan, can from Burroughs’ book. (The name comes from a steam-powered sex toy, to give you an idea of the type of content the book provided.)

I have a strong stomach and a questionable moral compass, and the book successfully challenged even my constitution. I cannot even begin to tell you what the plot of the book exactly was, too tangled was I in the incredibly graphic depictions of man-on-man sex that was followed by neck snapping and other such carnage. Seriously, the book was demented. It’s not one I generally recommend. If I do encourage you to read it, you may be aware that I don’t like you, or you have explicitly expressed a desire for a challenge.

So, with the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week drawing to a close, I found a list of the most banned and challenged classic books in America. That “Naked Lunch” came in at No. 73 tells me that many who would have books banned have not even tried to read this particular tome.

The effort to ban books is aimed not at publishers, who will publish what they deem most profitable and have the distribution systems in place that are beyond grassroots challenges, but at public and school libraries where many books are consumed. The objections are over content, and run a gamut from claims of obscenity to stuff that, well, parents just don’t want their children to know about.

The top most challenged book for 2010 – the one that would-be censors have tried most actively to remove from libraries in the past year – was a children’s book called “And Tango Makes Three.”

The picture book is based on the true story of two male penguins at the New York City Zoo who were found taking turns sitting on an egg-shaped rock. In the book, a zookeeper switches the rock for an abandoned egg, which the two male penguins, Roy and Silo, take turns incubating until a healthy baby hatchling, Tango, is born.

To be clear, Roy and Silo are not in a domestic partnership, nor are they lovers or fans of lavish Broadway musicals. From the reviews I’ve read online, the penguins do not even have a stylish in-town apartment to share. The book does not paint the penguins as gay. It does, however, paint them as loving parents working together to raise a baby.

Now, to assume that efforts to ban books don’t affect you because your typical reading list does not include vaguely-homosexual penguin stories, remember that the Harry Potter series also was perianally on the list of challenged books, owing to the claims that it taught children to become witches and wizards, and that the 2010 list also include Stephanie Myers’ “Twilight” series because of it was “sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence, unsuited to age group.” The religious viewpoint, by the way, was vampirism.

Were the “object-ors” to have their way, many other titles also would be absent from your local library. Remember reading John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” in high school? You wouldn’t find a copy in the public library. Ironically, both of George Orwell’s books that dealt with closed societies where censorship was the norm – “1984” and “Animal Farm” – also are frequent targets of challenges. So, too, is “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Catch-22,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “The Lord of the Flies” and many more simply fantastic classic novels.

I do not read as much as I’d like to or as frequently as I should, but there are books I’ve encountered that have changed my life. The most exquisitely-written book I’ve ever read, Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” is on the list. It’s a book I never heard of until I found it on a summer reading list for an advanced placement class I took in high school, and even with the story aside, the way Ellison crafts his sentences encompasses a grace that I wish I could mimic in my own work. Another of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, makes the list several times for “Slaughterhouse Five” and “Cat’s Cradle.”

In other words, the list of books that have been challenged or banned is without merit; books about baby penguins and classics about homoerotic manslaughter are odd pairings for any literary list.

Oh, and fellow Southerners, you ought to give a damn about this: Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” is the 26th most banned or challenged classic book.

Because these are books that are being removed from libraries rather than bookstores, it’s worth noting that the content and messages of these books are being taken from the reach of people who use libraries rather than bookstores. It is not necessarily the case that the affluent do not use libraries, but those who can afford to often purchase books or buy an e-reader version so they have something to hold on to and share with others as opposed to digging through the stacks of the public library.

In other words, these books aren’t being banned for all of us, just those of us who can’t afford to buy them ourselves, and that’s tragic.

It comes down to personal freedom and self-control. We’re not talking about pornography here (which is what the library computers is for); we’re talking about literature, and titles that have proven so potent that they’ve been in print for generations. They are not providing a framework with which we should live our lives, nor do they claim as such. But they’re art, they’re a part of our national parlance, and we should not allow either ourselves or these books to be victimized by a vocal minority of self-proclaimed interpreters to police the shelves of our local public libraries. If you find something offensive – a new mother breastfeeding a starving man, for instance – then don’t read Steinbeck.

But don’t take it upon yourself to prohibit others from reading Steinbeck as well.