Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I took a break from petitioning a couple of days ago to sneak out and get a Valentine’s Day gift for my wife. By the time this is published she’ll know I got a box of dark chocolates from the Sweet Granada and Henri Troyat’s best-selling biography “Catherine the Great” at the Town Crier.
I rarely buy books in hard cover any more. Cost is the main factor. Plus, I’m now the proud owner of a Kindle, which has a keener sense of appreciation for my wallet than the publishing industry. I’ve only had it a couple of months and I’ve read Frank Viola’s “Pagan Christianity,” Tom Friedman’s “That Used to Be Us,” and Richard Gordon’s “The New Holy Wars.” I downloaded Mark Twain’s “King Leopold’s Soliloquy” late last week and I’m about half way through it. It’s quite amusing, and also instructive. It’s a primer on how to skewer politicians. It’s never too late to learn.
I’ve even had time to re-read Joseph Conrad’s “Lord Jim.” It’s the story of a man of principle’s fall from grace in a moment of internal weakness and his long, tortured road to redemption. Jim has always fascinated me. It was free, as was Conrad’s tale of unleashed evil, “The Heart of Darkness.”
I’ve downloaded the English Standard version of the Bible. It was also free. To this point I’m having to read it from the beginning. I’d like to flit from Old to New Testament, but I didn’t take the time to read the Kindle user’s guide, so I don’t know how to navigate my way from place to place seamlessly. I’m just reading it sequentially. I’ve gotten as far as Genesis 15. Most Christian scholars believe that Moses either wrote or compiled the early books of the Bible. The more I read, the more I’ve come to see how clever a man Moses must have been. To arrange it all in chapters like that was quite a feat. He must have decided early on, as he was writing Genesis, that it would be a great idea. Apparently so, because the other 65 books that follow are all arranged the same way. The verses and the way they’re structured has me stumped. Why is it that chapter one has 31 verses and chapter two only has 25? Or why does chapter ten have 31 verses and chapter eleven have 32. Was that one verse about Terah at the end of the chapter eleven absolutely necessary?
One of the advantages of reading sequentially is that I’ve been able to recapture the breathtaking speed at which things moved from hunky-dory to the first murder, to a flood, and then seeing up close and personal how men become so arrogant they believe they can build a stairway of sorts to heaven. For them to believe that they must have either been politicians or rock salesmen. Right now I’m at the point where Abram rents a U-Haul truck to escape the clutches of civilization.
I think the Kindle is good for this kind of reading. It’s light. It’s even more portable than the average book, particularly textbooks, which are chock full of words and the prices to match. How’s the old adage go? – “publish or perish,” which is probably another way of saying, “If the tuition doesn’t get you, the bill for the books will.”

The most I’ve spent on any book to this point was ten bucks (“That Used to Be Us”). There are over eight thousand pages of free books that can be downloaded. I’ve got some shelf life left, but not that much.

Another nice feature of the Kindle is the ability to take notes or copy selected quotes into a utility called “my clippings.” These days my memory is getting shorter and being able to compile things I thought were important a few days ago is really nice.

But there are some things I miss. A book purchased in a store, the Town Crier, for example, has a great deal of tactile benefit. As I said, my wife loves biographies and the thought of reading about the life of some noteworthy person via electronic means seems cold and impersonal. A textbook I can understand electronically, but not Catherine the Great.

And there’s another really important benefit for me. I get to interact with people. Today, after I bought the book and had it gift wrapped I had a brief conversation with a very nice young woman. She seemed very kind. I told her that if I’d been around when Ben Franklin flew that kite he could have strung me on one end of it and lightning would have struck in fair weather or foul. I think she understood.

You can’t do that sort of thing on a Kindle.