I have reasons for asking Santa for a Kindle.
Before I get into them, let me say this: I love books. I adore books. I cherish books, and feel the house would be naked without thousands of them piled on chairs and climbing the stairs and stuffing bookcases in every room and stacked hither and yon. Books are the manifestation of a literate and inquisitive mind. For most of my life a large portion of our discretionary income has gone to books, a fact I’m rather proud of. Books are my life and, in many ways, my career.
Books are also becoming a problem. Not as a financial burden but as a spatial burden. In short, I’ve run out of room.
I’ve given books away, donated books to a library that will no longer accept them, even managed to sell a few books. In desperation, I’ve been known to toss books into the recycling bin though never without a nagging sense of guilt. (One book I tossed into the fire, joyfully so, but the succeeding shame forced me to buy another copy as if that alone would grant absolution.)
And yet, for all that, books continue to pile up. A new batch fills my Christmas wish list, two of them massive tomes in excess of 700 pages. I have no idea where to put them.
Considering the lack of space and the price differential of new hardbacks versus their electronic counterparts, it finally dawned on me to take the next evolutionary step into the digital age. A Kindle would solve the space issue while also paying for itself in a very short while. In fact, the new autobiography of Mark Twain goes for less than ten dollars in digital format compared to twice that much for the hardback, currently being offered at 45% off list of $35. I’d like to say the decision wasn’t an easy one but that would be fictitious. Quite the opposite was true: I can’t wait to make the transition.
Shortly before ordering the Kindle (as Santa’s designated purchasing agent), I began snooping around the Kindle store. I added a protective carrying case to my cart, added three books and hit the order button. The feeling was almost surreal, like stepping across a threshold into a brave new world.
There was also a treasure trove of free books available. Most were public domain works written by famous authors such as Jules Verne and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but included fantasy and adventure classics by Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, George MacDonald, H. Rider Haggard, Lord Dunsany and others. I went hog wild like a kid let loose in a candy store, downloading books to my laptop with the idea of transferring them to the Kindle when it arrived. According to the tech specs, the new generation model Kindle can hold up to 35,000 books, depending upon their length, making it a portable library!
I scouted for more early works that enthralled me when I first began reading in the fifth grade. (Resolutely kicking and screaming, resisting every effort to indulge in the written word until my father brought home a sci-fi novel by E.R. Burroughs, freeing my imagination to roam places I had no idea existed.) Being the forgetful type, I refreshed my memory nosing through the hundreds of dusty books in our upstairs library, the old Ace and Ballantine paperbacks that cost 40 cents when I started reading, many of them yellowed now, the pages and spines brittle. If possible I wanted them on my Kindle. I wanted them all on my Kindle. It was pure, unadulterated greed, but because books were involved the endeavor was pleasantly guiltless.
In a way it was walk through the early stages of my reading life, first the science fiction of Burroughs, the Pellucidar novels and the Mars books, followed by Tarzan of the Apes, not the clean-cut, wholesome Johnny Weissmuller popularized by Hollywood but a man able to transition between cultured English gentry and throat-ripping savage. For a while I bought every reprint of the classic fantasy books of the late 1800s and early 1900s, literary novels long passed into obscurity. A large section was devoted to a genre known as sword-and-sorcery, my favorite if I had to pick. Robert E. Howard was the undisputed master before taking his own life, but there were dozens of others. I noticed numerous copies of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, a work so engrossing it was nothing short of life-altering.
All these wonderful books with their musty smells, each a stirring memory. And then my eyes fell on a slender novel by an English writer named Alan Garner.
Until I discovered The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, reading had been an adventure. I’d explored distant universes and the Dark Continent, encountered sorcerers and demons, entered the forbidden realms of Elfland and, with Dunsany and others, wandered beyond the fields we know. But Garner was the first writer to make me weep like a child, to utterly shatter my heart, to wring me dry like an old frayed towel. And then slowly, agonizing, impossibly, bring me back. He was a storyteller of magnificent ability, and, I realized, worthy of another read.
The Kindle store, alas, did not offer his works. However, I found the next best thing , or maybe the best thing: a 50th anniversary hardbound edition of his seminal work. The price wasn’t excessive but with the other expenses of the season I balked anyway; but not for long, for a quick check at an antiquarian bookseller database found only about a half-dozen copies in the United States. I hesitated no longer.
As with the Kindle, I can’t wait for it to arrive. But it did illustrate a point that others had made: the death of books is greatly exaggerated. Not every book is available in digital format, though that’s slowly changing. And there will always be those who will prefer a tangible book to an electronic device. The Kindle is merely a different kind of book, not a replacement but a supplement, bridging for now the gap between traditional publishing and a paperless future. With Christmas still weeks away, that future seems unbearably distant.