Not deferential enough: A grievance kindled

Posted Wednesday, May 23, 2012 in Opinion

Not deferential enough: A grievance kindled

by Gina Hamilton

Last Christmas, my husband really wanted to buy me a Kindle. That is, he really wanted me to want one.  You know, those little machines that you can download books, magazines, and other reading material to? 

Now, even though I am the editor of an ONLINE newspaper, and even though I know in my heart of hearts that print media is that friendly dinosaur we all love but know is doomed in the long run, I had a hard time accepting that my rather extensive library of books, like my formerly extensive library of recordings, would soon have nothing but curiosity value.  It's hard to accept that a habit and a hobby and a vocation of a lifetime has become outdated in a single generation.

I suppose I feel a bit like the monks and nuns who used to work in the scriptorium, or the scriveners who used to copy legal documents for a living, or any number of other literate folks who suddenly saw their life's work swept away in a single world-changing moment, when a guy named Gutenberg had a really good idea, and made a bunch of little fiddley moveable pieces of lead type, and then printed a copy of the whole Bible in 1436. It's hard to accept that everything from that moment to this is all so much recycling.

So anyway, I said no, thank you, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the printing press.  "But it looks like paper," Chris said.  "You can read it just like a book."

"In the tub? In the pool?"

"Well, probably not there."

So after all my fussing, he did not get me a Kindle. 

Then, in February, I flew to Arizona for an extended period of time (well, for me) and ran out of books, even though I had bought five to take with me.  I had to go to a thrift store and buy some more just to make it.  I left most of the books I bought in Arizona, but other guests (and my host) may one day read them, so I didn't feel too badly about that.  But books are heavy things, and I had to change planes three times each way, and none of the gates were near one another.

Hmm, I thought to myself.

And then, this month, I took the train and the bus to New York.  I was packed much more lightly, of course, for only three days, except for the books.  And they were heavy.

Hmm again, I thought.

So when I got home, I ordered a Kindle, and didn't tell anyone about it.  I might never have told anyone about it, except it arrived when Chris was home, so I immediately confessed.

After I bought a few books, that is, that were delivered to my device instantaneously.

Chris was ... well, angry isn't the word, exactly, but that odd mixture of gloating and perplexedness he gets when I do something that seems, on its face, irrational.  He secretly loves it when I do something that needs explaining, because he's a king mixer. 

"Oh, no, you said, don't buy me one of those, and then YOU buy one!" he said with that smug smile he gets.

I explained how travel sans vehicle was broadening.

He said he could understand that, but decided it was worth telling everyone he knew how his wife bought a Kindle after insisting she would never, ever use it. 

Well, that's all quite true, I can't argue with the facts, so I cheerfully let him gloat and started to read.

There is a new program at the Library for borrowing books on Kindle; I shall have to learn how it's done.  And there is a major program to upload every book out of copyright to something called, ironically, Project Gutenberg, that allows people to download them again to their Kindles for free.  I shall have to learn how it's done. A whole new learning curve on these things.

But for now, I'm learning to like the Kindle.  It doesn't smell like anything, not the must of a dear old friend long on the shelf, not the tangy tantalizingly inky scent of a new book, just home from the store.  It has no cover art.  It doesn't crack when you open it for the first time. The pages don't stick together.  For those of us of a certain age, we don't have to take out our book-knife and cut the pages before we could read a word.  (Anybody but me do that in our lifetime?) But you can store 36,000 books on it.  The message, if not the medium, is the same.  And you have quotations, you have every word Jane Austen or Arthur Conan Doyle ever penned.  You can look up what it was exactly that Descartes wrote to Kepler.  You could have the world's knowledge at the touch of a finger.

Something's lost, but something's gained, in every new stride mankind takes.  And if Kindle allows me finally to donate my Harvard Classics, well, it might be a wise investment indeed.

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