Saturday, July 23, 2011

Kindling a Fire of Reading

by Zinta Aistars

It took me years to get to the point of plunking the money down. I'd been watching the birth and development of Amazon's electronic reading device, the Kindle, since it's appearance online. As all such gadgets, it started with a high price, several hundreds, and gradually came down to a reasonable $139.

Temptation itched at the seams of my wallet. I was most curious to try this slim little gadget. What tempted most was the idea that this six-inch, slim reader can hold within it an entire library: 3,500 books in electronic form.

Imagine: wherever I go, there with me, slim as a small notebook, aisles and aisles of bookshelves to suit every reading impulse. A secret library, like that magic closet where a child climbs in, slips between the hanging coats and shirts, to find a secret door in back ... and emerge in a magic land.

Who says there is no romance in technology? Well, I did. Those years of waiting. I kept buying books, adding them to my bookshelves, my rooms lined with them, until they ended up in piles in the corners, on the tables, beneath the tables. Oh, dear.

And then word got out that I write Zinta Reviews, and post reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Lunch, and of course, in my literary magazine, The Smoking Poet. And my mailbox has filled with boxes and thick, padded envelopes. From authors, publicists, and even in boxes from publishers, entire seasons of new books, hot off the presses. Oh, constant Christmas!

Even as my house groaned with books, books, books.

Then it occurred to me: I care about the environment. Not only the internal environment of my home, but those glorious green forests ... and I ducked with shame at taking down, surely, a forest or two. 

So that was two reasons to consider this new-fangled e-reader ...

The last was the hardest to overcome. See, I am addicted to books. I stand up among you and declare myself: "My name is Zinta Aistars and I am a bookaholic." I cannot walk into a bookstore or a library without emerging book laden. Armloads and tote bags full. I love books. I have always loved books. I will, always.

There is something to be said for the sensual pleasure of holding a book in my hands. Whether it is an old book, smelling a bit musty, held by a thousand pairs of hands and read by a thousand pairs of eyes before mine, or a fresh new book that cracks a little in the spine when I first open the cover.

Would an electronic reader feel like a book in my hands?

Of course not. But it does feel a little like a key to a magic place ...

I finally realize I don't have to give anything up here. A quick browse on online bookstores, and I find that many of the books that interest me aren't available in digital versions. My reading tastes are just eclectic enough that quite a few of the titles that pique my interest require a hunt to find. For these, I go to my favorite local, independent bookstores.

For me, that means a trip to Michigan News Agency in downtown Kalamazoo, a store that has been in that same spot for 64 years, and where Dean always comes over to talk to me as soon as I walk in the door. Dean throws terrific author readings for local and regional authors, and I try to attend as many as I can ... and I enjoy buying a book on the spot and having the author inscribe my copy. Now, that's something I can't do on an e-reader - have my book inscribed.

Or, I visit Gloria at Kazoo Books. The shelves in her two stores are overflowing with gently used books (and some new), just the place to hunt down that old and rare volume I can't find anywhere else. Up in the attic, around into that back room, or downstairs in the basement ... the hunt alone is exciting.

And, let's face it, I love my local libraries. I have several library cards in my wallet. I go to the Portage District Library, where Marsha alerts to me a special book, or downtown to the beautiful Kalamazoo Public Library that won an award for its astounding architecture the year it was renovated. Wonderful literary events abound at both. 

So why give up any of this? I can have it all. The moment this dawns on me, I am ready to buy. I order my Kindle.

Funny, how once I make that decision, I am like a kid waiting for the arrival of Santa Claus, dressed in the chocolate brown uniform of a UPS delivery man. I track the shipment online, watching it move from Hebron, Kentucky, to Bellingham, Michigan, then cross the state from east to west, until it arrives in Portage. A text message chirps on my BlackBerry to tell me that the package has been delivered to my door. These are the joys of the world of advanced technology.

I hurry home from the office and grab for the package. It's empty! Oh bless, my son has been by to receive the package, and was thoughtful enough (I have been chattering about my anticipated new Kindle all week) to take it out and plug it in to upload its battery, three hours to presto. When I get home, it's ready for me.

Oooh. Wow. Oh, fun! The screen saver alone is enchanting. I turn the e-reader off and on several times just to view the changing pictures. Like pencil drawings, portraits of classic authors, of long ago scenes, Leonardo da Vinci sitting at his desk, of lions in dens in lazy repose, of great temples and ancient architecture, of fish!

I browse through the online user's manual and set it up just for me. At top of the screen it now says: Zinta's Kindle. I'm grinning. Now to download books ...

Indeed, a shelf's worth are already downloaded. All week I have been ordering up electronic copies of classics. Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, Jack London, William Shakespeare (complete works!), Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Joseph Conrad, Beatrix Potter, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, James Joyce, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, John Steinbeck, Fyodor Dostoyekski, Walt Whitman ... and more. And I have spent ... not a dime!

Oh, glory! I feel almost decadent, rolling in good books, books everywhere, only not everywhere ... they are all contained within this slim, light reader. I've ordered a protective burgundy leather cover for the Kindle, so it feels very much like a book in my hands as I read. It takes only a moment to master the electronics. I am skimming pages, highlighting favorite passages, adding bookmarks, sorting the order of my favorite books on my "shelf."

I'm in love. From now on, wherever I go, whatever waiting room I am sitting in, lined up in however long a line, I can relax. Push of a button, and I have passed through the doorway into my personal library, filled with my favorite books and favorite authors. Within minutes, I can shop and add more. I rather hope everyone keeps me waiting ...

And I will still show up at my neighborhood local bookstore. I will still wear out my library card. I have the best of all of these literary worlds, giving up none, but perhaps, somewhere out there in the wilderness, a tree stands because I haven't turned it into a print book.

I will find that tree. Its limbs stretching out to shelter me with a green umbrella. I will sit beneath it, open my e-reader, choose a good book, and settle in for a long read ...

New! You can now subscribe to this blog to receive it on your Kindle the moment it is posted! See Zinta Aistars: On a Writer's Journey on Amazon

Ordering online for your Kindle is as easy as one, two, Z ...


1 comment:

  1. I don't have a Kindle yet, but you may have me sold on one now!