A new kind of bookend

March 02, 2009 by barbara


My name is barbara and I am addicted to books. Well, books and butter pecan ice cream, though the latter is a relatively new addiction, more or less replacing popcorn.

For decades, I’ve been a bit of a legend among family and friends because of my love affair with books. For me, buying, owning, reading a book is a multi-sensory experience. The sight, smell, feel of books is immensely seductive. I admit I have not tasted many and I’ve only listened to one audio book.

For decades, books have followed me home from Barnes & Noble and independent booksellers like stray puppies, sometimes singly, but more often in large numbers. I take them in, smooth their covers, position them for rotation as an upcoming read.

My books are shelved two-deep in each of a dozen or so bookcases. They are also more-or-less-artfully displayed in random collections on table-tops, the piano, my desk, etc.

Recently, while attempting to re-order my life, it became apparent that my collection of books has once again grown into something nearly unmanageable. Point of fact, the only place to go with them now is up. Possibly clear to the ceiling in every room save the bathrooms, and I’ve considered converting the bathroom linen closets into bookcases. Really, how many towels does a person need? There's more.

The impetus for my recent radical treachery (more about that in a moment) was schlepping around on the web, looking at bookcases. Tall, deep bookcases. And thus it was that I eventually found myself at Amazon dot com. In addition to books, they seem to have expanded to offering just about everything a person imagines they must have. And that’s when I saw it.

In a moment of sanitus interruptus, I purchased (and now possess) an electronic device named Amazon Kindle. Let me speak plainly. The Kindle is an electronic substitute for traditional books that have paper pages, intricate bindings, eye-catching covers. Books that have dust jacket synopses and breathless blurbs on the back cover. Books that almost invariably include photos of their authors in blue jeans, leaning against fences with horses grazing in the background. Or authors seated on immense boulders with sea spray rising high behind them.

Each author looks deeply into my eyes via the camera lens. And their unspoken message is clear. “We are true partners in your multi-sensory book experience. Take. Read. Enjoy.”

I do not deserve to live, so grave is my transgression.

In the whisk of a credit card, I sealed my fate. And two days ago, the Kindle arrived in my mailbox. Yes, really. It’s that compact.

It seems like such a good solution for my book problem. In addition to the storage problem (and don't even get me started on the matter of giving away books--I know, I know!), there is the matter of bedtime reading with a 500+ page tome (I just finished wrestling for many nights with “A Prayer for Owen Meany”), trying to juggle the immense book or, worse yet, falling asleep and having it crush my sternum with its great weight.

The little wireless Kindle weighs about 10 ounces. It’s not much thicker than Newsweek. Well, Newsweek as we once knew it. And its vertical and horizontal dimensions are about the size of a slightly oversized paperback.

It has a little Qwerty keyboard and assorted buttons for moving from book to book, from page to page. It takes roughly one minute to download an entire book, and the Kindle will store 1,500 books, give or take. I can adjust the font size to suit my personal preference. I can highlight passages or make notations that are saved in a kind of footnote fashion. If I click on any word in the text whilst reading, the built-in dictionary defines it for me. Once I turn it off, I know it will bring me back to the page I was reading the next time I open it.

The Kindle will read my book out loud to me if I tell it to do that. Then I can hook it up to a headset so I don’t annoy people around me. Of course, they may already be annoyed because they cannot believe that I of all people have one of those electronic thingies.

The next time I travel, which I may actually do once I’ve rebounded from the financial nick of the Kindle, I’ll be able to bring as many books with me as I wish.

I sound kinda, sorta sold on this, don’t I? Do not be deceived. I’m trying to justify a decision that has left me feeling as though I’ve turned my back on some of my best friends. My books, past, present, future. My wonderful, tangible books.

I dunno. Sometimes I think it would be better if I were a total Luddite. Of course, that would mean I couldn’t TM my grands, which is just about the only way to catch them these days. But guess what? Most of them love books. I’m not sure how they’re going to take this news.

We’ll see. Anyway, I thought I should warn you in case you spot me out and about with my Kindle. It’s a whole new world, folks. For me, anyway.

(True libraries are in our heads)

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Anne Gibert (not verified) | March 2, 2009 - 12:04pm

Well, I suppose I'll have to get one eventually. But I love the feel of books, and a beautiful book is an art object. And what about illustrations? I was hoping they would come back into vogue. Illustrations add a lot for me. Besides, my favorite outing after weekly grocery shopping or dentist appointment is a trip to the bookstore, a latte, and some new books. What if all the bookstores disappear? Where will I go?


barbara says (not verified) | March 2, 2009 - 9:30pm

Funny about the "have to" thingie. I more or less bullied myself into this without any external pressure at all. Well, bullied is not the right slant either. More like convinced. And while I still share your passion for "real" books, I have to tell you that this little gizmo is mighty handy and chock full of value-added goodies. I sound like a salesperson for Kindle, don't I? I'm not!! Our wonderful independent stores are disappearing, leaving Len Riggio's B&N/B.Dalton stores the last ones standing. I dunno. Jury is still out on my Kindle experience, but it's trending positive.


Susanbw (not verified) | March 3, 2009 - 8:17pm

Dear Barbara,

You might enjoy the March 2 post on this website: www.mannahattamamma.com

The writer has a close personal relationship with books similar to your own, but has evidently reached a different conclusion.

It's so good to have you back!


barbara says (not verified) | March 4, 2009 - 2:25pm

I did enjoy it. Thanks for the link. You're a frequent commenter there, I see. Nice! We need those!!! Reaction to my verbal confessions about the Kindle range from "What's that?" to "I can't believe you caved!" to "Yeah, I'm thinking about doing that, too." So far, mine has "Shock Doctrine" loaded and I'm reading a feather-weight paperback novel at night. What's that monumentally long work by Dickens? Can't surface the title at the moment. I'm thinking I might download it, just because I can. And then I can not read that, too!


Poet (not verified) | March 9, 2009 - 1:25am

You are probably thinking about A Tale of Two Cities--"It was the best of times and it was the worst of times..."


barbara says (not verified) | March 9, 2009 - 3:08pm

Even longer than that, Poet! I think the title is a man's name. I'll check it out one of these days. And not in my vast library. No. Google and Amazon are among my closest friends.
: >)


Cron (not verified) | March 13, 2009 - 10:49am

I ran into similar book issues several years ago, my spouse observed that I had "too many" books (to me, this was blasphemous, like Mozart being told his concerto had "too many notes" in the movie "Amadeus.").A librarian acquaintance pointed out the versatility of books, that they could be used as tables, foot-rests, door-stops, even pillows. My spouse was unimpressed. So I began hoarding books at my parents' house and my office. As I type this, the bookshelf in front of me includes everything from "A Study of Communism" by J Edgar Hoover to Larry Tribe's "Constitutional Choices," from "The Imitation of Christ" to "Why People Believe Weird Things." I can pull any of these books off the shelf at any time and skim through it, something I cannot do with a book online (and I doubt most of these are available in electronic format). To prove my point, if you are a Dickens fan, I will mail you a two or three volume scholarly treatise on Dickens. I will say, however, that books available online are great when hard copies of same are either unavailable or beyond my means. You know, if you took out the tub and just hosed yourself down in the backyard, you could put in some lateral sliding bookshelves...