Friday, May 20, 2011

Books and Bathwater

My bookshelf. The big white volume is Catch 22. My son brought it home at Christmas. I can't recall if I read it (back in the 60's when my brother, who was always on the cutting edge, brought it home.) I do recall this scene where Yossarian, is it? censors arbitrary words, so I guess I did. College students caught on to the novel before anyone else. According to Nora Ephron in her latest book, which I bought off Amazon for my Kindle.

Well, Amazon has announced that Kindle sales have outpaced traditional book sales. Good news for trees!

This has happened in a much shorter time than anticipated.

I've posted a bit about my Kindle earlier, how with a Kindle I can't see exactly where I am in a book at any given time. Which bothers me, because often the only reason I keep reading some huge books is because I can SEE my progress.

I also described how, as an adolescent, when reading one of "the great books" I would take a break and perform certain physical acts with the book: flip to the back; flip through the pages; run my finger down a page, all while thinking, "All this wisdom in this book."

I remember doing this with East of Eden, a big book, that eventually fell into the bath and became an even bigger book.

Still, I lent my bloated and misshapen copy East of Eden to a number of people. It really made the rounds. All that wisdom making the rounds...

Technology changes us in ways we can't always predict. Well, no doubt this e-book technology will change us. And likely in DRAMATIC fashion- and no doubt in unanticipated ways.

Will it get young people to read more of the great classics?

These are available for free for download on iPods and such. My son, the philosophy student/chef downloaded all THE GREAT BOOKS immediately upon getting his iPod a few years ago. I doubt he's had time to read them all. Or any of them, actually. Too busy.

How is an e-book different from a regular book and how does it change things?

This question will be asked and answered over and over for generations to come no doubt, unless, for some reason, the unintentional effect of e-books is that we stop reading books.

It does save on trees (and hurt the pulp and paper industry.)

It makes money for Amazon, as you can't lend these books...(or maybe you can :)

It will promote more 'impulse purchases' of light-weight topic books, if I am any example. ... Here's the thing.

When I visit a book store, I walk through the aisles, picking up book after book and then I reconsider and re-trace my steps, replacing book after book, perhaps exchanging a book in my hand for another on the shelf, and I usually end up with two or three books, which I may or may not read immediately.

With an e-book, well, I download the book and it's already in my Kindle and then it's too late.. (Can you 'return' ebooks?)

Indeed, as I blogged about earlier, I downloaded a book on the Reformation by mistake (one click purchase) and now I feel I must read it or waste money.

I buy a lot of books of because I like UK history, and it REALLY bugs me that I can not buy Kindle books from the British Amazon. Kindle gives this company A LOT of control over what people read. Say, imagine, Kindle always gave a free copy of, say, the Road to Wigan Pier, with every purchase of their device (which may soon be available free, I imagine). How would that change things?

But I see that Nella Last's War (and Peace and 50's) is available on Kindle UK. I have these paperbacks in a place of honor in my living room, on a very old arts and crafty secretary I inherited. It comforts me to see the 3 volumes there, as I move about the room. I have a thing for Nella.

Here's something that will certainly change with e-books. You won't be able to walk into a person's home and scan the bookshelves and decide on the spot if you like this person or not by the titles of the books she owns. But who visits other people's homes these days?

Here's my favourite e-book by the way:

Anyway, I decided for some reason to read Sister Carrie and I found a copy on Gutenberg. I downloaded the Kindle version and will stick it on my slate, as soon as I can figure out how to.

Why haven't I read Sister Carrie yet? Because when I was about 12, my brother, 15, was reading it and I got the impression it was a 'dirty' book. Or something adult, maybe about a nun who had terrible things happen to her.

And that impression stayed with me. I read An American Tragedy, in my 20's, when I had time to read, but not Sister Carrie.

Well, Sister Carrie is about a woman in the city in 1900 (very useful for my Flo in the City) and good things happen to her. That's all. It was scandalous in its era because of just that. Apparently. I just read a few paragraphs off the 'puter and gee, Drieser writes in the naturalist style like Emile Zola, my favorite French writer. (Except his writing is clumsier, more cluttered.) I wouldn't have realized that in my 20's as I hadn't read Zola yet.

Ps. I'm jealous. My son went to his girlfriend's convocation (NYU) a few days ago and heard Mr. Clinton speak at Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium? How much fun is that? His speech was serious though: Our world is in trouble: