Thursday, December 23, 2010

Brave new book

If patience is a virtue, I am an unrepentant wastrel.

Waiting for something to arrive in the mail has always been a simmering torture, an interminable postponement of all that is good and right and fair. Life comes to a screeching halt, placed on sustained hold, squandered of potential, swindled of joy. The imminent bliss of the Next Best Thing, however dubious in principle, becomes an exercise in fruitless anticipation. I pace. I fret. I grumble and grouse.

When I place an order, I don’t want it expedited, prioritized, three-dayed or overnighted—I want it yesterdayed.

Which might be why I fell so hard for Amazon Prime, with its promise of two-day delivery. Best of all, it came gratis, courtesy of a listserve catering to mothers; three full months without commitment with a promise of extensions for heavy users. Much to Lori’s amusement I became an Amazon Dad, using my granddaughters to gain inclusion.

Two-day delivery isn’t perfect but certainly beats the alternative, plus it’s had an unexpected benefit: my impatience has become tempered. Somewhat.

Temperament only goes so far, though. When after what seemed the mere blink of an eye a certain package arrived, I tore into it like a kid blitzkrieging gifts on Christmas morning. But it wasn’t Christmas, nor Christmas Eve, nor even within days of that fateful holiday. There were weeks to go, long, agonizing weeks, and what little self-restraint I possessed had bled away in a frenzy of longing.

“Let’s just take a peek to see what it looks like,” I said. After all, a picture on a computer monitor is hardly a substitute for the real thing. Lori allowed a peek.

The box itself was the same size as a trade paperback sitting on my desk. Inside was a slim plastic tablet the length and thickness of a number two pencil and about as light. Scary light. For grins I balanced the Kindle in my left hand and the book in my right. The one was substantial and the other what felt like a toy though a toy that could hold libraries larger than most people could imagine. What immediately came to mind was my iPod, a gadget I first dismissed as hopelessly unrealistic and now find indispensable to the point of having boxed up my collection of CDs in favor of a palm-sized silvery machine. Who’d have thought? I kept asking myself as if there were an answer worth hearing.

“It’s a long ways till Christmas,” I suggested. “Maybe we ought to charge it to make sure it works.”

Lori looked skeptical but granted absolution. I plugged the Kindle into the computer via a USB cable and set it to the side. My eyes kept roving over the tiny keyboard and the darkened window. I wondered what the display would look like with real text. I wondered if it would change my life and make me a better person, more caring, less prone to irritation, able to type with all my fingers.

A little later Lori announced that she was going to take a nap. The timing was perfect, providing a short window of opportunity rarely granted to mortals. With her gone I downloaded several books including a sample chapter of Mark Twain’s autobiography and Thoughts on Landscape by Frank Gohlke. Obviously I needed to make sure it worked, too. It took all of about ten seconds to connect the Kindle to our wireless network and another three seconds (or maybe five) to download the books. Talk about instant gratification! If I suddenly crave a book there will be no more waiting for it to arrive by slow ferry from Hoboken, but I shall have it as fast as my brain can formulate the thought. Maybe faster. And—and!—at reduced prices!

Yes, yes, I hear you say, but how did it compare to a real book? Well, my ten-minute indulgence wasn’t quite enough to make valid comparisons but I will say this: the Kindle is very, very light; turning pages is a snap using the tabs on either side; reading in low light absolutely no problem even though the screen isn’t backlit; the text is clean and sharp and the “page” a creamy off-white, with a subtle grayish cast that accentuates the text. Easy on the eye. More research will be needed for learning how to skip chapters, find indexes, navigate to the beginning or end of a book, or highlight noteworthy. What I found fascinating and not a little spooky is that the Kindle remembers your place and takes you there the next time you open the book or wake it from sleep. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scouted around the house looking for a bookmark. I won’t miss the experience.

That said—with a repeat admonition that the Kindle isn’t just one book but a vast library—a “real” book has a feel and a scent that no mechanism of plastic, glass or metal can replicate. Nor can a Kindle grace a bookshelf with visceral embodiments of your favorite books. A Kindle book cannot be autographed or personalized, which for some authors simply will not be acceptable behavior; books by Jim Harrison come to mind.

It dawned on me that I was once again voicing internal arguments over the various merits and demerits of an electronic reader. There really are none. Like life itself, an e-book is what you make of it. My Kindle—when the time comes, alas, for I reluctantly placed it back inside its box and handed it over to Lori—will be a revelation and a joy. I’ll personalize it and maybe even give it a name. (I like Alexandria, after the fabled library). I only hope I can bide my time. I’m almost finished with a book I thought would last till Christmas, and when it’s done the Kindle goes into service. I might be Scroogish with waiting, but with the Kindle I’m ho-ho-ho all the way.


Carol said...

This piece is great fun. You spur me to get Max's work on-line and down-loadable.

I hope you LOVE your Kindle and that you and Laurie have a wonderful Christmas.

Tom Parker said...

Carol -- The same to you and Max. To tell the truth, I opened my Kindle and started using it two days ago. Diagnosis: LOVE it.

shoreacres said...

So. I was in Barnes and Noble last Saturday morning. They had tables full of Nooks, chatting up the customers and demonstrating all the virtues.

I circled. I sidled. I got caught by a clerk. "Let me just show you..." he said. He plunked a finger somewhere on the thing. He plunked harder. Nothing happened. The page didn't turn - or whatever he was trying to do.

"Let's go over here and try this other one," he said. I oh-never-minded him and backed off. But I'll allow as how I actually looked at the thing. Who knows? Maybe by the time we get through winter and back into what I call disposable cash season (summer to most folks) I'll actually pick one up and hold it! ;-)

Tom Parker said...

Linda -- Of course, that was a Nook! (Uh oh, this might turn into a Nikon-Canon thing. Let's not.) As someone who's now been using his Kindle for two days, I can attest to its flawless performance, its easy-to-read screen (no glare, crisp text, good contrast) and portability. That I'm actually carrying around about ten books, several of them over 600 pages long, in a device that weighs eight ounces, is stunning. It's a keeper. And now that freezing drizzle is setting in, I think I'll get back to reading and dreaming of chocolate martinis.

Wes said...

Tom, we all told you the Kindles are great!! Glad you like it.

Vikki said...

Uncle Tom, you sound as bad as Bill! I have to keep telling him, "Not until Christmas!"

So, the Kindle screen doesn't have a backlight? I thought it did? Hmmmm. I've really been wanting one. Glad you're enjoying it!

Tom Parker said...

Nope, no backlighting. The way the ink works, though, you don't need it. I've been able to read the Kindle in low light just fine. In direct sunlight there's no glare, like a computer screen would have. I LOVE my Kindle.

Carol said...

Still loving your Kindle? Have you read a whole book on it by now? Shall I get one?

Tom Parker said...

After reading one a half books (the latest a 650-page monster), I've fallen even more in love with the Kindle. Yesterday I spent the day helping Lori set up for her Roc Day Celebration and since I knew I'd have some time to kill I brought the Kindle along. Small and thin, feather-light, I had a library containing 15 books with me at all times, and best of all it slipped into a pocket of my camera bag. Yep, I'm sold on it.

Carol said...

I just prepared Max's book THE REVIVAL to submit to a contest Amazon is having . Now Max is entered. Of course, it would be great if he wins a contract with Penguin Books, but they are accepting 5000 entries, so it doesn't seem likely. step will be to make the book a down-loadable product, then get out word that a really fun read is available as an electronic book and watch the royalties roll in. :-)

Tom Parker said...

Max on a Kindle. That would be fun!