Thoughts on the Kindle and Real Books

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For my birthday two years ago my brother bought me a Kindle. He assumed I was running out of shelf-space (I was), and that being the voracious reader I was, needed a one stop shop for all the books I had yet to read but had no room for. I played with the Kindle for all of twenty minutes before becoming frustrated with the functions. I knew from reading reviews that it was considered extremely user friendly and provided the ability to highlight passages and make notes…but typing on the tiny keys and navigating back and forth between slow-turning digital “pages” was not something I could ever integrate into my reading habits. I apologized for being an ungrateful sister and handed the Kindle back to him.

My brother was a bit surprised, but then shrugged. “Well, cool. I’m gonna use it then because I like it.”

To each his own medium.

I’ve long been “the library” to many friends and family, because when I enter a bookstore (and god help my bank account if it’s a used bookstore), I sweep up books as though 1984 was right around the corner. In Berkeley, even knowing full well I had an already overburdened bookshelf back home, I bought books by the dozens, quickly filling up the rickety IKEA bookshelf my father and I assembled when I first moved there. When it was time to move home I had a mild panic attack, wondering how I was going to make room for the books at home – but I made some edits and donated some paperbacks to the local library.

It hurts to get rid of books, but sometimes I buy books like I buy clothes: for occasions that will never ever happen, and the dress or platform heels or derby hat gathers dust in my closet until some five years later I suck it up and give it away. It was never meant to be. Books can be like that – I think I bought a couple thick, really serious novels thinking it would push me towards becoming a (hopefully not too thick) really serious thinker/writer, but I’d open up the first page and find my eyes getting heavy even before I’d finished reading the first paragraph. Alas, Margaret Atwood and Wallace Stegner, we were just not meant to be.

Even after the edits, my bookshelf is as full as my closet, if not more so. The sad thing is, I’ve read, like really READ from cover to cover, about 15% of the books on my shelf. I’d estimate I have about 300 books on my shelf, which means I’ve read about 45. Wait. I have definitely not read 45 books from my bookshelf, but I definitely have about 300 books… I think the percentage is closer to 3. I’ve read about 10 of the books, cover to cover. The rest I’ve paged through, skimmed, started and stopped about 4 or 5 times or have just picked up and put right back. It’s embarrassing because I write and I do read, just not books from my library, and when people come into my room, they see the desk, the bookshelf and say, “Whoa, this is SUCH a writer’s desk. You’ve read so much!” And I only nod vaguely and say, “Yeah….” and pray they don’t ask me to give them a run down of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology or Alice Munro’s The View from Castle Rock.  

But that’s about to change. Or so I hope. I’ve stopped going to the local library, not because I’ve outgrown it, but because it’s never open when I need it to be. The government’s budget chopping cut weekend hours altogether and shortened Monday and Friday closing time to 8PM. If it’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s being rushed at the library. So I don’t even bother. And why should I – I have a fine personal library that sits virtually unused except by others (though the bulk of my most loyal patrons have slowly slipped away into Kindle-land), and it’s high time I started reading from my own shelves.

I’m starting small – short stories and such. Moby Dick and Jane Eyre…I’ll see you guys in a few months…

Oh and Happy Easter, whatever it means to you and yours.

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