Darleen gave me a Kindle last year.
This was not a completely altruistic gift on my wife’s part. We are running out of shelf space, and my suggestion that we build more bookshelves in other rooms (the bathrooms, for example) was not greeted with anything like enthusiasm. In fact, it was greeted with a look that reminded me I had a lot of chores to do outside. On the far side of our little ranch. Out of voice range.
I fought like a steer against the Kindle, but I have to admit I’ve grown to like it. It holds a ton of books, literally. It includes an unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, which is a feature I really love; nothing drives me battier than coming across a word I don’t know while I’m stuck somewhere waiting for my truck to be repaired and don’t have a dictionary with me. Most of the books I download are far more affordable as e-books than they would be as either hardbacks or paperbacks. Certain classic books are completely free or almost so. And, perhaps the greatest feature of all, it allows me to download a free sample chapter of any book I wish. That single feature has saved me a small fortune.
I follow various book reviews in various newspapers. Most are traditional sources, primarily “The New York Times” and “The Los Angeles Times,” and some are newer, online sources. Being of a certain age and certain habits, my tendency has been to rely on “The New York Times” first and foremost.
I began to have doubts and concerns about “The New York Times Book Review” several years ago. It was nothing too serious at first, just fledgling doubts, little wobbly-legged precocial concerns, caused by one of their reviewers, herself an esteemed and published novelist. At least, I assume she was esteemed. I had never heard of her, but I can’t imagine the Gray Lady grabbing some unknown wannabe with a BA in Eng. Lit. off the street. I don’t remember her name or the book she was reviewing, but she wrote a sentence that went something like this:
“Having told you [this happened] and [that happened], it should now be redux of me to have to tell you…”
At that time I was still so in the thrall to the Gray Lady’s reputation that I actually sat there for several minutes trying to make the sentence work, to uncover some arcane meaning behind her use of that word, but you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit no matter how long you stare at the page. Redux means restored to a state of health (that’s the OED speaking). It bears no relationship of any kind, no matter how you try to stretch it, to redundant, which is what the reviewer meant.
Since then, thanks in part to my Kindle, I have learned that much of what you read in the Times Book Review section is pure, unadulterated bunk. Pre-Kindle, I wouldn’t have discovered this because I couldn’t have afforded to buy all the books whose rave reviews intrigued me. But the free one-chapter sample allows me to stick my toe into what I always hope will be refreshing and entertaining and enriching water, but usually turns out to be a literary La Brea tar pit.
Most of the time I finish the free sample chapter and think, I’d rather be boiled in oil than read any more of this tripe. On the one occasion when I overrode my own instincts and downloaded an entire novel (to be fair, I did so partly because it got a rave in the “LA Times” as well) I had to force myself to finish the damn thing, and when I did, I turned the Kindle off and asked myself, Why did I just waste four or five precious evenings out of the little span of life I have to read this? What did I learn about the human experience? Is my life enriched? Am I wiser? Happier? Was I even distracted for the interminable hours it took to finish the damn thing? To which I replied: I don’t know; nothing; no; no; no; and no.
But, as a certain news organization likes to say, to be fair and balanced, I have to admit I first heard of “The Help,” “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,” “The Corrections,” and “To Be Sung Underwater” in one Times or the other, and I enjoyed all of them tremendously. And simply because I didn’t like Novel X doesn’t mean you wouldn’t either; after all, your taste may be as bad as the Gray Lady’s.